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BuzzSession: Little Theatre of the Rockies Spends Weekend Mounting ’39 Steps’


by Brandon Palmer

Denver, Theatre, 39 Steps, Little Theatre of the Rockies

Ken Womble and Shelley Gaza – AEA Guest Artists and UNC Faculty

As a part of their rotating repertory-style summer season, the University of Northern Colorado’s (UNC) Little Theatre of the Rockies is producing The 39 Steps, based on the Alfred Hitchcock film by the same name and adapted by Patrick Barlow. David Grapes, director of the show and Professor of Theatre Arts at UNC says, “They’re recreating Hitchcock’s early masterpiece in a very funny, sketch comedy, improvisational Second City kind of way. Basically what happens is, four people improvise the entire movie of The 39 Steps, which is a murder mystery released in the mid to late 30s. It’s very typical Hitchcock.”

The Little Theatre of the Rockies summer program employs a variety of current UNC students, UNC alumni, and professional actors. Bringing this stage reenactment of Hitchcock’s film to life is a cast of four, two alumni from UNC and two equity actors on the theatre faculty at the college. Grapes comments, “It’s sort of wonderful training for students here, and nice to bring back alumni who we haven’t seen in a while. Nobody does rotating repertory anymore, but for us, because we have such a small space, it’s easy to change sets out there; and it’s a useful skill both for the performers and the technicians.”

Grapes first encountered the show several years back on a showcase trip to New York. “They have a number of rehearsal studios there,” explains Grapes. “We were there for the showcase and I noticed this sort of crazy rehearsal going on. There were people doing wild English dialects and using strange props and funny physicality. I asked somebody, ‘What is that?’ and they said they were rehearsing some replacements for The 39 Steps; and that was the first I knew about the play.”

The majority of the roles in the show are played by the two UNC alumni, Scott Kruse and Jason Clark, who Grapes says were both known for their physical comedy in the theatre department before they graduated. “They basically play every single character that appears in the movie. They play train conductors, they play travelling salesmen, they play villains, Scottish people who run an Inn where the main character stays, they play men, women, young people, old people, and all very quickly. It runs at the break-neck French farce pace. It’s very cinematic, changing scene to scene.”

Denver, Theatre, 39 Steps, Little Theatre of the Rockies

Jason Clark and Scott Kruse collectively play over 100 characters in this fast paced comedy.

Whether you’re a die-hard Hitchcock fan or completely new to his work, Grapes assures us that the play, The 39 Steps stands well enough alone to enjoy. “Even though they may know the title, they certainly don’t have to know The 39 Steps the movie to enjoy it. It’s not a complicated plot. They’ll figure out very quickly what’s going on and what sort of journey they’re on. Sure, if you know the movie, that’ll be fun because you’ll recognize things, but if you’ve never seen the movie, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.”

The show will be performed in the Langworthy Theatre at UNC, which Grapes says is very unique and fitting for this fast-paced, quick-changing style of The 39 Steps. “One of the things that’s unusual about the Langworthy Theatre at UNC,” says Grapes, “is that although the theatre was built in 1952, there was a [mechanical] revolve built into the stage deck itself. At the time it was put in, it was the only revolve built into a stage outside of New York City.”

Grapes assures us, “It’s pretty amazing. It’s great fun, I think for the audience to both watch the play, but also watch the actors at work, which we don’t always get to see in live theatre. We want to make the audience laugh, forget about whatever else is going on in the real world, and have a good time.”

The 39 Steps opens at the Langworthy Theatre on June 14. Tickets are available online or by calling 970.351.2200.

***A local actor and theatre fan, Brandon joined the He Said/She Said team and hopes use his love of theatre to write preview and interview articles with the hopes of generating buzz for upcoming productions.***
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