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Running the '39 Steps' Marathon

by Jerome Weeks 28 Jan 2010 10:04 AM

So you’ve heard that ‘The 39 Steps’ is a brilliant stage spoof of the classic thriller. You’ve heard that four actors play more than 100 roles. What you haven’t heard is that the lead role is one of the more physically demanding there is. Currently playing at the Majestic, Ted Deasy takes on that role — running and hiding and trying to look dapper while doing it.


Ted Deasy — looking sweaty — with co-star Claire Brownell in The 39 Steps

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If you’ve heard anything about The 39 Steps, currently at the Majestic Theatre courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, you’ve probably heard that it’s a comic spoof of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller (which itself was an adaptation of John Buchan’s novel — one of the original espionage yarns). And you’ve probably heard about the stage show’s highly entertaining gimmick: Only four actors play all the roles in the film — from milk man to coppers to murderous spies to vaudeville acts.

But actually, only three of the actors play more than a hundred characters. The fourth cast member plays just a single role. But that role is one of the more physically demanding parts around — for him, The 39 Steps is more like The 39,000 Steps because the stage version, created by Patrick Barlow, moves so fast and is so precisely choreographed.

Like many Hitchcock thrillers, The 39 Steps is essentially a chase. Richard Hannay learns of a plot to steal military secrets and scrambles from London to Scotland while wanted for murder.

[scene from the stage show — ponderous piano movie music, then the cry of the murdered Annabella Schmidt: “Clear out, Hannay! They’ll get you next!”


Hannay: “Golly!”]

Annabella Schmidt (Brownell) before her untimely encounter with a knife

On this tour, Ted Deasy plays Hannay. Deasy is barely offstage for the show’s entire two-hour length. He hardly ever stops running, jumping, hiding and climbing, often while handcuffed to another actor. Deasy was already a lean, 6-foot-4 when he started, but he’s been doing the Richard Hannay weight-loss workout for five months now.

Deasy: “I’ve probably lost about 20 pounds, and most of that was just – sweat. I end up going through two suits every show. I sweat through my first one. At intermission, I dry off and I get into my second and go through that one by the end of the show.”

Most theatergoers are aware of the frantic efforts of the other actors with their quick-change characters. But they do get time offstage. Deasy’s onstage marathon, on the other hand, requires the breath control of a dancer or an athlete. He has to run and dash – and then start the next scene as if he just strolled through the door

Deasy: “That’s the great challenge – to sweat in a three-piece wool suit but also to make it look Cary Grant effortless.”