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Oregon Cabaret's 'Mission: Impossible'

Crazy chase scenes, adventure, comedy and an array of Scottish accents are just some of what to expect at Oregon Cabaret Theater’s fall production of “The 39 Steps.” The play is a fast-paced spoof of classic Hitchcock spy films, and director Rick Robinson says the show is almost impossible to imagine as live theater.

“It’s hilarious," he says. "The show is basically a chase, a spy movie you should never be able to see on stage, but using sound and theatrical magic, it works.”

In pre-World War II London, Richard Hannay is unhappy with his mundane life. When he inadvertently takes a spy home from the theater, he finds himself caught up in a murder and on the run from a mysterious organization known only as the “39 Steps.” Along the way, he escapes capture by climbing atop a moving train, survives a fall from a bridge and evades the guns of a bi-plane on the Scottish Moors. His adventures lead him to further intrigue and romance.

“This show is thrilling,” Robinson says. “It is a lot of fun and it feels like a good fit to bring in a light comedy after ‘Cabaret’ this summer.”

“The 39 Steps” previews Thursday, Sept. 10, and Friday, Sept. 11, and runs through Nov. 8 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, 241 Hargadine St., Ashland. Curtain is at 8 p.m. for evening performances and 1 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees. Reservations are required for pre-show dinner or brunch. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are available without reservations. 

Preview tickets are $21, tickets for all other performances are $35. Bistro seating is $21. Discounted tickets are available for groups of 10 or larger. Student rush tickets are $10 and are available at the door. Tickets and information are available at the box office, online at theoregoncabaret.com or by calling 541-488-2902.

Based on the novel by John Buchan, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation of it, the first version of the play was written by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, and premiered in England in 1995. In 2005, Patrick Barlow rewrote the script. The show opened on Broadway a little more than a year later and won two Tony awards.

The four-person cast is made up of Cabaret veterans and newcomers. John Stadelman who has performed in more than a dozen shows at the theater, plays protagonist Richard Hannay. Katie Worley, who also has a number of Cabaret credits, plays Hannay’s mysterious spy and two other women in the show. Justin Waggle and Stephen Kline, both newcomers, play the rest of the 140 or so characters, male and female, comic and villainous.

“There is a lot of running in place, jumping across boxes — it’s very physical,” Robinson says. “By the end of the day, these actors are tired and sweaty.”

Waggle and Kline also get to demonstrate their talent with accents.

“These guys do gifted accent work, not just for example a Scottish accent, but five different kinds of Scottish accents,” Robinson says.

While Robinson is the managing director of Oregon Cabaret Theater, this is his first time directing a show for the theater. He says he’s especially pleased with the cast.

“Two of the actors have to be more serious and maintain the honesty of the story throughout the ridiculous chase, and the other two have to provide a crazy level of physical comedy,” Robinson says. “Part of the fun of the show is watching the actors pull it off, the quick changes, the location changes, moving set pieces. Much of the action depends on the physicality of the performers.”

Tom Freeman and Elisabeth Weidner designed the sound for the show, which has more than 200 sound cues. Earlier this year, the theater improved its sound system, adding speakers to project sound more clearly and farther back in the theater.

“All the work we’ve done is going to pay off in this show with the train noises and special effects,” Robinson says.

Since rapid set changes are a big part of the show, resident designer Craig Hudson created the lighting and built a set that easily transforms from one object or structure to another. “We don’t want to get bogged down in long set changes and lose momentum,” Robinson says. “Everything is built to flow from one scene to the next. Everything is built for speed.”

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.