BWW Interview: Roxanne Wach from THE 39 STEPS at the Chanticleer Community Theatre

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a pinch of Monty Python and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced crime thriller for those who love the magic of theater! This double Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with non-stop laughter, over 150 wacky characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of four), an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers, and some good old-fashioned romance.

Tell me a little bit about your introduction to this show/script. How did you find out about this?

I saw The 39 steps about 10 years ago and thought it looked like a lot of fun.

What made you decide to direct this special production at PACE?

Chanticleer asked me to direct. It’s fun directing in their new theater with so much space. We actually had to reduce the scope for a cast of 4. They would have just swum on that big stage.

Can you tell me about your audition for this production? What were you looking for and what led you to the wonderful cast you have assembled?

I pulled a few scenes from the script and explained their context and characters, but also the dialects. I let everyone play with the plots and told them I wanted to see what they would bring to the table. The first four actors to read together were my cast. There was such chemistry and I saw characters to build on. You know comedy is so difficult and I never worried about it with this cast. They all really get the humor in the script and how to make the most of it. We also understood where we are all going. I loved that they played with the characters and allowed me to refine and guide them. We laughed so much during rehearsals, it was just wonderful. I had really forgotten how healing laughter can be and there is a lot of it in it The 39 steps!

what is The 39 steps about it and how does it differ from other scripts out there today?

The 39 steps is basically Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, except it’s all played by four actors and a lot of costumes, hats, wigs and dialects. Three of the actors play multiple characters and one is just a character, but he’s a good guy who everyone thinks is bad. So there is that. It was just so much fun working with my cast and crew. Lots of fun people involved and our time together was just so enjoyable – which definitely carries over to the stage.

What were the biggest challenges and biggest surprises in this process for you and the cast?

There are so many details! Multiple characters, quick costume changes, wigs, many dialects, props… It can be overwhelming. There are 150 sound cues – and the cues are not just atmosphere, they herald action. I decided to design the sound myself so we could have it very early in the process. We all talked about it last night. It was so helpful to finish all these things ahead of time. I think the biggest surprise for me was how quickly the cast came out of the book! I think we were maybe two rehearsals in the process when they started putting books over different scenes. There are many words on this show. Everyone worked so hard on it. There was so much collaboration and mutual support. I think the cast is so happy with the support of the crew and their comedy as well (because of course they’re on stage too). Last night was our opening night and they were surprised by a few things that made for bigger laughs. I wasn’t surprised by the laughs, but that they were bigger than me. I love that.

What are you hoping for from viewers after seeing this production?

I’m so glad I filled this time with so many laughs. I really hope that the audience will come and jump into our adventure and share lots and lots of laughs. It was so much fun watching our audience go about it with such big smiles on their faces.

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