Cedar Street Theatre’s production of “The 39 Steps” opens its two-weekend run April 5 at the Nellie and Lou Bozigian Family Theatre at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center.
The stage production is based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, which is loosely based on John Buchan’s novel. In fact, much of Patrick Barlow’s 2005 theatrical adaptation takes its dialogue from the movie.
“It was a basic espionage film — a man who doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on and he gets thrust into a situation where he has to save the world,” director David Wright said.
Then there is the woman who hates him. They end up handcuffed together and, by the film’s end, they are a romantic couple.
“We have all of that,” Wright said. “We have those two running through Scotland and England trying to save England from the dreaded scourge.”
The play is a parody first conceived by British music hall performers. The play won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007. It was nominated for six Tony Awards in 2008 and won two.
“It’s an absolute comedy; it’s a riot,” Wright said.
The play features four actors who perform all of the roles. That is not as easy as it sounds.
“It’s way more complicated — four people who play 60 or 100 (characters),” Wright said. “It’s a logistical roller coaster.”
Actor Eric Leiss performs about 15 characters as Clown 2. This is his second time doing the show. He played the same character in the Tehachapi Community Theatre production last year.
He plays both male and female characters.
“The Crofter is the one I like because he’s fun,” Leiss said. “But the one that is the most wow, is Mr. Memory.”
He described “The 39 Steps” as an actor’s play.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had on stage as an actor,” Leiss said. “Absolutely the most fun.”
The show is fun, but also complicated, he added.
“It can be considered an actor’s nightmare because there’s so many different roles that you have to do,” Leiss said.
Actor Jonathan Hall plays Clown 1. He also has multiple characters.
“It is very challenging, but you know they’re all very fun to play, so you look toward the next one and that gets you excited about it, whoever he is,” Hall said.
The lead roles are played by Courtney Unander and Dan Swaney. Unander plays three characters — Annabella Schmidt, a foreign spy with a suspicious German accent; Pamela, the typical British girl, and Margaret, a Scottish character from Glasgow.
“I had a lot with the Glaswegian accent but after a while, I got it down,” Unander said.
Playing three characters in the same play is challenging, she said.
“I’ve played a lot more dramatic roles, so being able to do a comedy is fun in itself, because they’re actually comedic roles and doing that on top of playing three characters is a challenge, but it’s so much fun,” Unander said. “It never gets boring.”
Swaney plays one character, Richard Hannay.
“When I read the description, it sounded interesting and funny,” he said.
Swaney added the spy story sounded fun.
“I have more lines, but in some ways, I have less to keep straight,” he said.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” will be on stage at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, April 5-13; 2 p.m., Sunday, April 7, and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 14.
Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors age 62 and older, and for military; and $14 for youth 18 and younger.