My 16-year-old daughter Lizabeth climbed plenty of steps last week during a whirlwind weeklong adventure in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Think Lincoln monument, U.S. Capitol building, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I spoke to Lizabeth Thursday night after she’d seen her first show on Broadway, “Next to Normal,” and got the feeling she might like to stay in NYC.
I joked that I’d simply send her a credit card, but knew she’d have to wait a few more years to make her own way in the city that never sleeps.
My 18-year-old daughter, Jennifer, feels the same way about San Francisco—so she’d be equally delighted to get a limitless credit card with plane ticket and rent money.
I thought of Lizabeth as I spoke last Friday with actress Claire Brownell, one of four actors appearing in the touring production of “The 39 Steps,” a comedic whodunit based on an early work of British-born American film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock.
I remember watching black and white Hitchcock films like “Psycho” and “The Birds” in the basement of my Colorado home, feeling both energized and terrified by the nightmares I knew would surely follow.
Brownell recalls how she loved watching old movies as a child, especially with her grandma who lived downstairs. Her favorite, she recalls, was “The Court Jester” with Danny Kaye. “I absolutely adored this film,” she sighs.
Brownell says she was equally smitten by “anything with Gene Kelly.” My own daughter Lizabeth, a high school junior busy exploring college theater programs, has always had a thing for the 1952 flick “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Although she wasn’t that familiar with Hitchcock’s work before auditioning for “The 39 Steps,” Brownell says she lucked out after landing an understudy role in the Boston production that eventually went to Broadway.
A classic movie channel was doing a Hitchcock marathon, so she was able to enjoy a bit of Hitchcock every night before she went on stage. Seems she never got more than three-fourths of the way through a movie before racing out the door to make her own theater call time.
I picture Brownell tucked away someday watching the final fourth of every film Hitchcock ever made, but expect she’ll enjoy many decades of acting and other adventures before she slows down long enough for that to happen.
I asked Brownell what she appreciates about Hitchcock’s work. “He creates great suspense,” she says. Still, she adds, you don’t have to be a Hitchcock fan to enjoy the touring production of “The 39 Steps.”
You don’t really think, as you’re watching it, that it’s heavy on Hitchcock—though Hitchcock fans will appreciate the many subtle references to his other works. Instead, says Brownell, folks just really enjoy it and think it’s fabulously funny.
The production features just four actors playing multiple roles in what Brownell describes as “non-stop action.” Clearly Hitchcock doesn’t make for ho-hum theater. Like many Hitchcock works, “The 39 Steps” follows the adventures of a man “caught in circumstances beyond his control.”
“It’s a matter of life and death,” says Brownell, “but a ridiculous one.”
Brownell is clearly proud of the way the work has come together with relatively simple sets, sound and lighting—describing “The 39 Steps” as “a real tribute to what a small group of actors can create together.”
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Brownell whether the show is appropriate for young audiences. “Not for babes in arms,” she quips. But her eight year old nephew saw it—and really loved it.
“He liked that I died.”
Note: Tickets to “The 39 Steps,” playing April 20-25 at ASU Gammage in Tempe, are now on sale. Call the box office or go online to order.
Coming up: More conversations with Claire Brownell, who shares a bit about her theater training and offers some thoughts for the Valley’s young aspiring actors; Guest post by this year’s “Poetry Out Loud” Arizona champion, who will be representing our state in the 2010 national Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C.