39 Steps: Controlled chaos comes to MCT

Missoula Community Theatre stages Hitchcock's frantically funny whodunit March 8-18

On Stage
The 39 Steps
Zach French and Shelby Art star in The 39 Steps – a fast-paced, funny whodunit.Photo © Andy Meyers

Hilarious controlled chaos: that’s one way to describe “The 39 Steps,” based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. The Missoula Community Theatre will be staging this fast-paced, frantically funny, non-musical mystery March 8-18 at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts.

The original movie, called “a masterpiece” by Orson Welles, is a classic whodunit. But, says director Andy Meyers, when the show was adapted for the stage, the choice to have “a very small but mighty cast play the nearly 150 characters” led to “incredibly creative and engaging fast-paced action” with many layers of hilarity.

Leading man Richard Hannay, played by Zach French, is on the run, not only to protect himself, but also to uncover clues about “The 39 Steps.” Those clues may lead to information about the death of the mysterious secret agent Annabella Schmidt, played by Shelby Art.

Hannay is the only character who remains constant, says Meyers. “There are dozens of lightning-fast costume changes, and the actors are each challenged to create many extremely different characters, all varying in gender, age, and social class. At times, one actor may be portraying a half-dozen characters in the same scene.”

Along with Art, many of those characters are played by Howard Kingston and Brennan Buhl. Meyers is also utilizing an ensemble of four actors to create atmosphere and special effects, as well as having an on-stage sound-effects artist.

The result is that the audience not only gets to take in the funny show, reveals Meyers, “but also the onstage shenanigans that it takes to create the pieces.”

Every beat in the show must be carefully choreographed “because each moment often includes a quick pass-off of a prop, slipping into a new coat, and changing an actor’s accent and physicality.” While every performance promises to be a creative workout for the cast, “The 39 Steps” will undoubtedly be an uproarious feast for the audience.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, March 9-18 (Premiere Night is March 8). Tickets are available at MCTinc.org; by calling 406-728-7529; or at the MCT Box Office, which is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.