Friday, October 4, 2013

MMT's '39 Steps' Shows the Theatre Is Back

I've been wanting to say this for a while and hoped to announce it a couple of months ago when Mill
Mountain Theatre re-opened with its musical "The Marvelous Wonderettes." That production was OK, but not up to the standards I want for this theater.

Now, I'll say it: Mill Mountain Theatre is back.

MMT had been closed for a couple of years because of financial difficulties, but it came back earlier this year with its first play of a full schedule and that one didn't fully work.The return of this professional theater is especially important because MMT has always been the region's theatrical anchor. Theater here is as good as it is anywhere in the country in a city this size and it just got a good bit better even than that.

Proof of the return, however, is its delightful production of John Buchan's "The 39 Steps," playing downtown through Oct. 13 (tickets at range from $17-$25). There are moments in this comedy when you're going to lose it. Laugh out loud. Blow coffee through your nose. Hurt your side. All that.

The four professional actors (two of them locals) play 140 characters--according to the playbill; I didn't count--and each has starring moments. Jeffrey McGullion playing several male and female characters and hanging out a wonderful Marty Feldman-like personae upon occasion steals every scene he's in, but it's not because of weakness among Dustin Charles (in the lead role), Ginger Poole (playing a delightful range of parts, all quite well; she's also MMT's managing director) or Andrew Hampton Livingston (doing a great Nathan Lane). They're all strong in a wide and creative variety of parts. McGullion is simply a bit stronger in this specific play.

This homage to Alfred Hitchcock is about spies, stolen secrets, murder, delightful references to his movies and the Hitchcockian "McGuffin," which turns out to be the 39 Steps.

The production's funniest moments come about a third of the way through the first act when there is a chase scene on a train and everybody in the 2/3 full house was flopping in the floor laughing. The physical comedy from these pros was simply delightful and just perfect for this scene. Guest director Peppy Biddy, who directed "Wonderettes" earlier this year was playing a totally different game here and the direction was spot-on, a kind of helter-skelter pace that must leave the actors depleted every night.

Strongly recommended for a delightful evening. And you have no idea how happy I am to say that.


  1. While I'm glad that you think theatre is professional theatre is coming back to Roanoke, saying things like "Theater here is as good as it is anywhere in the country in a city this size and it just got a good bit better even than that" is absolutely ridiculous. Have you ever been to Staunton or Abingdon? Smaller communities with better professional theatre right in our own back yard. Let's at least be honest about who we are, shall we?

  2. I would suggest that you likely have not seen theater at Hollins.

    1. No, I have not. But still, having worked as a professional AEA actor (even for Mill Mountain-a theatre I love), I can name you a bunch of theatres that are producing more interesting work in the area.

  3. Rkejoe: If you haven't seen any of Hollins' outstanding productions, you really need to before making a your statement. Harrisonburg's and Staunton's theaters are good, but they are singular (and neither city is nearly in Roanoke's size category). Roanoke has a number of outstanding theaters and now MMT has rejoined that group. The quality and volume of theater in Roanoke is impressive. I am tickled that the entire region has such a level of theatrical production on a consistent basis. I'd love to see Lime Kiln Arts return with its outstanding lineup in Lexington and from what I understand, Liberty University is ready to join the group with consistently high-level productions.