Weather Forecast


'Step' right up for this show; ‘The 39 Steps’ opens tonight at Chief Theater

(From left to right) Actors Emma Gochberg, Dave Gangler, Eric Webster and Dan Rooney rehearse a scene from “The 39 Steps,” the fourth play in the Paul Bunyan Playhouse’s summer season. The show opens at 7:30 tonight at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- "The 39 Steps" is a fast-paced whodunit and one of the funniest shows to hit the stage of the Chief Theater.

Opening at 7:30 tonight, "The 39 Steps" is a 2005 adaptation by Patrick Barlow based on the

serious Hitchcock movie of the same name about spies, handsome heroes and daring dames. But make no mistake, this production is an altogether different experience. Mixing "...a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, adding a dash of Monty Python..." the result is a masterpiece of visual humor, an absolutely intriguing, riotous comedy that's not to be missed.

In typical spy thriller fashion, the show takes the audience from a rowdy London music hall to Scotland's remote heather-covered highlands, which provide a safe haven for villains and heroes alike.

The journey contains several legendary scenes from Hitchcock's award-winning movie of the same name -- including the thrilling chase scene on the Flying Scotsman -- and there are constant references to other Hitchcock productions such as "Strangers on a Train," "North by Northwest," "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Each mention is placed cleverly in the plot with recognition from the cast and audience very much a part of what makes "The 39 Steps" such an amusing treat.

Although the set is minimal, it is quite large, reaching almost to the ceiling of the Chief's stage. Using simple props, visual humor and impeccable comic timing, artistic director Zach Curtis gives us every reason to understand the longevity of his tenure at the Playhouse. His casting continues to delight audiences and with just four actors; the amazing Eric Webster as Richard Hannay, the handsome, bored hero who needs some spice in his life (and the only cast member who does not double in another role), the lovely and funny Emma Gochberg as the spice (playing the three women with whom our hero is entangled) and introducing two very welcome newcomers to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Dave Gangler and Dan Rooney. Together, these two portray numerous characters and in doing so, remind the audience over and over again of just how incredibly magical great live theater can be. Gangler and Rooney are truly an inspired pair of clowns, switching characters and costumes with lightning speed, some with just a quick change of hat and accent and some done directly in front of your eyes, while the entire cast and their outrageous, over-the-top acting will keep the laughs going until the final curtain.

"The 39 Steps" is underwritten by Cuperus Construction and the Bemidji Chrysler Center and stage managed by Lydia Bolder with assistant Molly Weibel, lighting designed by Grant Merges, costumes by Cindy Forsgren, prop design by Connor Norton, sound design by Jacob Rosene and scenic design by Justin Hooper and Curtis, based on an original design by Robin McIntyre. Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270. The "39 Steps" runs through July 26 with a matinee this Sunday at 2 p.m.

Speaking of theatrical treats, don't miss "Shade's Brigade" also onstage at the Chief Theatre on July 22. Featuring the very same Eric Webster, "Shade's Brigade" is an original radio adventure/thriller set in the wonderful style of the golden-age radio shows. Performed with four actors playing multiple characters, they also produce all of their own sound effects. Tickets are available by calling the box office.

If you go

What: "The 39 Steps" by the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.

Where: Historic Chief Theater, downtown Bemidji.

When: 7:30 tonight; event runs through July 26 with shows Wednesday through Sunday (2 p.m. matinee) the first week and Wednesday through Saturday the following week.

Cost: Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 adult Sunday matinee. All tickets may be purchased through the box office at (218) 751-7270, online at or on the Chief Theatre or Paul Bunyan Playhouse Facebook pages.

Upcoming shows: "Annie," July 30-Aug. 9.