Want to Laugh Uncontrollably? Try ‘The 39 Steps’ at Steel Beam Theatre

There are comedies that will make you chuckle and others that will make you giggle. Then, there are the laugh riot comedies that have you laughing until your sides hurt. The 39 Steps, now playing at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles, is just such a show.

What makes The 39 Steps so funny has a lot to do with its origins. It started life as an adventure novel by Scottish author John Buchan. It was then loosely adapted into a cinematic thriller in 1935 by famed master of suspense Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

While that may not sound like the pedigree of a slapstick comedy, you would be surprised. In 2005, writer Patrick Barlow adapted the film for the stage in which four actors play all 150 characters from the film in a hysterical parody of the Hitchcock movie.


The Barlow comedy is the perfect type of show for Steel Beam Theatre’s second floor space in downtown St. Charles. The cozy theater lets the audience sit up close to the stage to witness the comedic genius in all its glory, and the actors aren’t shy about bringing the comedy out into the house.

The play stars Benedict Slabick as Richard Hannay, a Canadian living in England who gets caught up in the plot of an international organization of spies to steal British military secrets. Hannay is described as 37 years old, standing 6’1, with dark wavy hair – none of which describes Slabick which kicks off the comedy in high gear.

Karen Niedlinger plays opposite Slabick in multiple roles, portraying three different love interests for Hannay as the action weaves along. She dons wigs and form fitting gowns, and sports wide ranging accents to give each of the women fawning for Hannay their own femme fatale personality.

While Slabick and Niedlinger get the joys of playing a few choice central roles, Julie Bayer and Andrew Buel look to be having the time of their lives as they jump from one quick change to another playing the over 100 other characters in the play. This requires quick changes into outrageous costumes and the sporting of some very silly accents. The two could not be funnier.


As the central character, Slabick plays Hannay for the most part with a straight face. He lets his stoicism contrast the absurdity of the action – and it works. It is, however, in those instances where he gets a bit zany with an Inspector Clouseau level of bumbling and over the top mugging that he shines best.

Niedlinger is absolutely delicious in her multiple roles. She has a talent for playing up the sex pot aspects of the multiple love interest for Stabick’s Hannay. She is fun to watch.

Bayer and Buel are the backbone of The 39 Steps. They play men, women, children, and even inanimate objects. Nothing is off limits and all of it is hilarious. Bayer’s Mr. Memory is a highlight of the show. Mr. Memory may nostalgically remind some Elmo fans of Mr. Noodle.

Director Annie Silvinski has done an incredible job fitting the action of the show into Steel Beam’s lovely performance space, including action throughout the house. I loved having the actors step off the stage.

While there are plenty of funny accents and untold pages of humorous dialogue, it is the physical humor that really propels The 39 Steps. At one point, Hannay gets trapped beneath a dead body and his attempts to free himself are the stuff of legends. Similarly, the way each of the actors demonstrate the art of climbing through windows is also sidesplittingly funny. Buel is particularly funny with this.


What is, perhaps, most delightful about the cast is their ability to improvise. While the script is hilarious and the directed action spot on, it is the actors’ talents for reacting in the moment to unforeseen complications that had me wiping tears from my eyes.

The set by Catie Early is simple and utilitarian, giving the actors the freedom to adapt the stage to the necessities of each scene. It serves its purpose well.

Costumes by Marge Uhlarik-Boller are well done. Niedlinger gets to wear some sultry outfits, but most of the costumes changes for Bayer and Buel are done involving a variety of hats and wigs – all are well chosen.

Understudies for the cast include Beth Kahan, Stephanie Turner, and Sam Welch. Such heroes always deserve praise for their ability to jump into the action on a moment’s notice.

I cannot say enough about how funny The 39 Steps is. If you’re in the mood for some outrageous laughs, get your reservations now for The 39 Steps at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles – conveniently located in Chicago’s western suburbs. You

Steel Beam Theatre is located on the second floor at 111 W. Main Street in St. Charles. There is not a bad seat in the house, and damn are those seats comfortable!

Regular ticket prices start at $28, with student and senior discounts online and in person. Industry discounts are available at the box office. There is ample free area parking.

For tickets contact the box office at (630) 587-8521 or visit www.SteelBeamTheatre.com.


Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area


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  1. I have to agree! This was a hilarious production with an exquisite cast! Congratulations to Steel Beam’s team-what a show to pull off so well!

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