To prepare for her role as lead actress in the theatrical adaptation of The 39 Steps, Claire Brownell had to buy a box set to get her hands on the early, rather obscure Alfred Hitchcock film.

To prepare for her role as lead actress in the theatrical adaptation of The 39 Steps, Claire Brownell had to buy a box set to get her hands on the early, rather obscure Alfred Hitchcock film.

But audience members don't have to do the same to enjoy and appreciate the Tony Award-winning off-Broadway production, she stressed.

"We've incorporated a lot of references from other movies into the play," Brownell said. "But The 39 Steps was an early Hitchcock movie, so there are elements that you see in so many of his later films.

"It's very familiar territory if you're into Hitchcock," she added during a phone interview while in San Francisco. "If you're not, it's just really funny."

The crowd-pleasing performance is coming to the Palace Theatre in mid-January. In it, Brownell shares the stage with three other actors, who together reenact the more than 150 characters in Hitchcock's comedic thriller - Brownell plays four, mostly "the pretty girls."

The storyline follows Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy) as he meets the mysterious Annabella (Brownell), and then becomes a prime suspect in her murder.

The group uses just a few props as they portray Hannay's run from the London police, resulting in a fast-paced, somewhat physical comedy that's fun to watch and requires the actors to stay a step ahead of the audience, Brownell said.

The pace engages audience members of all ages, she said.

"It's just very funny and different," Brownell said. "You see the actors and all of their hard work, you see that on stage. Although there's all sorts of smoke ... and a really cool set, it all comes together to create this really actor-driven piece."

The quick-turnaround set changes can leave the actors either invigorated or exhausted.

"Depending on the night, you can practically fall asleep on the train going home," Brownell said, "or you can have so much energy, you just don't know what to do with yourself."