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"The 39 Steps" Opens Commonwealth Summer Dinner Theatre Season

World War II approaches. Nazis are everywhere. Richard Hannay spends the evening at a London theater to witness the remarkable powers of “Mr. Memory” when a shot is fired! There is panic! Richard is picked up by a beautiful spy! She has uncovered a plot to steal British military secrets! Assassins want to kill her! They succeed. The next morning, Hannay wakes up to find her dead, stabbed with a knife!
 
And that’s just the beginning of suspense-adventure-comedy The 39 Steps, which draws from the same source as Alfred Hitchcock’s film classic. It tips its many hats to Hitchcock, too. It opens the Commonwealth Summer Dinner Theatre season at Northern Kentucky University, June 7-25. 
 
Spenser Smith plays suave man-on-the-run Hannay (Scotland Yard is after him, too!), Kimberly Gelbwasse plays the three women he encounters, and two actors play everyone else, a cast of dozens as our hero is on the run from the police, who think he’s a murderer (of course) and the baddies, who need to stop him from discovering the secret of the "39 Steps".
 
Here’s the one show secret we’re willing to share: how the heck Charlie Roetting and Colin Kissell play everybody else, which involves changing character and costume a mind-spinning number of times over the course of the show. 
 
Roetting says, “It's really exhilarating and a good bit nerve-wracking. There is a great deal of challenge that comes with playing so many characters, all the more so since most of those that I ply are Scottish or Cockney.  It's really important to find nuance -- none of the characters should blend into one another. That's the challenge, making them clear. And also keeping them in order!
 
“But that also makes for lots of room to play and a lot of opportunity for reward. For me, the biggest fear - I guess there are two - is making sure the characters are all very distinct and also that we execute all the costume changes successfully.”
 
As far as those whiplash character changes, Roetting and Kissell aren’t on their own. Director Mike King says that three crew members share dressing and scene shift responsibilities.  
 
“They are in the wings wherever they are needed. And, of course, there are a vast array of hooks backstage to hold all the hats, coats, scarves, and wigs. and moustaches that the actors are constantly donning and shedding.”  
 
“What it really comes down to at the end of the day is our choices in how we are creating these characters whether it's in the voice, the physicality, or the costuming,” Roetting explains. “Really, it's all three.”
 
Once Roetting takes a quick breather it’s on to fall, when he’ll return to teaching at NKU and, as a member of OTRimprov, being involved with the troupe’s annual IF Cincy Improv Festival in September, which features local, regional, and national acts.
 
The 39 Steps, June 7-25. Commonwealth Summer Dinner Theatre, Northern Kentucky University Fine Arts Center, Highland Heights. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Dinner begins 90 minutes before curtain. Tickets $37. (Two-show package with BurgerTown in July, $64.) Information and reservations 859-572-5464 or here. Valet parking is available.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts