Chicago Theatre Review
Sherlock Holmes – Broadway in Chicago
There hasn’t been very much hype about this Montreal-based production that’s currently touring the United States, and perhaps there’s good reason. It’s a show that has its sights set on Broadway. However, based upon the jumbled mess presented opening night in Chicago, including the muddied performances turned in by some of its ill-chosen cast, conquering the Big Apple probably won’t be in the cards. It’s a shame, too. The script, written by the late Canadian actor/director/writer Greg Kramer was, no doubt, a labor of love. Unfortunately it doesn’t play as intelligently or humorously as he might’ve hoped. There are a few reasons for this.
First, actor David Arquette, known primarily for his strange, quirky film roles, seems an odd choice to play Conan Doyle’s super sleuth. He’s reported to be a big fan of this character. But if, in casting him, the intention was to reinvent Sherlock Holmes, by creating an irreverent, comic version or parody of everyone’s favorite detective, it didn’t exactly work. This play isn’t a Monty Python satire. The writer or director would need to take the humor all the way, instead of dabbling in a few spots. Perhaps if the entire cast appeared to be in on the joke it would play better. However, besides an overacted Holmes, who seems to be on the outside looking in, we have a Dr. Watson who’s underplayed to the point of being so bland he practically fades into the scenery. Handsome Nickelodeon star James Maslow has neither mastered a very consistent British dialect, nor has he created a strong, memorable characterization. As such, Maslow simply doesn’t offer Arquette very much support, as his costar.
Then we have lovely Renee Olstead, another TV actor, primarily known for her regular appearances on the TV series “Still Standing.” In the role of Lady Irene St. John, Ms. Olstead looks like she’s performing in a different play than the rest of the cast, some sort of over-the-top melodramatic soap opera, perhaps. In spite of playing an American femme fatal, Ms. Olstead’s sloppy diction makes her one of the most difficult actors to hear and understand in this production. She spends much of the play running around the stage and up and down moving staircases, clad in a black and white ballgown and bustier, while clutching her long black train like a security blanket.
Several of the other actors, however, fare somewhat better. Kyle Gatehouse, as maniacal arch villain Professor Moriarty (looking a bit like Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon series), is smart and strong, while maintaining his unique, evil persona. As bumbling British Inspector Lestrade, Patrick Costello portrays a man who’s consistently incompetent, not always in the know and inadvertently humorous. Barbara Gordon, as Holmes’ elderly housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, does a fine job playing a strong, no nonsense working class British woman, who runs her boarding house with a genteel but firm hand. In one particularly inventive moment, Holmes borrows the lady’s deerstalker bonnet she’s been using as a diguise, thus establishing his trademark chapeau.
Besides several actors who aren’t up to the task, an uneven script that tries to cover too many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories while attempting to be funny at the strangest moments, some of the problems in this production can be attributed to Andrew Shaver’s direction. Mr. Shaver’s resume would lead the theatergoer to expect a much cleaner, more precise production, but this isn’t always the case.
A good play is simply storytelling taken to the next level. If the audience can’t understand the tale being told, it’s not a successful production. Between Jesse Ash’s loud background music (there are speakers covering the front of the stage), a plot that bobs and bounces all over the place and actors speaking in unclear, inconsistent dialects, the audience has to work far too hard in order to be entertained. Shaver’s focus isn’t always clear and sometimes too much is going on for the theatergoer to figure out what’s happening and to whom. Production designer James Lavoie hasn’t help tell this story. He’s created a curious, almost anachronistic Steampunk look for his world of Sherlock Holmes. Victorian London is depicted in sliding metal panels covered in cyclone fencing, two movable metal staircases and a false proscenium onto which is projected a b&w video design by George Allister and Patrick Andrew Brown. Itai Erdal’s sharp illuminative design looks similar to concert lighting and Lavoie’s costumes are a mixed bag of late 19th century finery and dominatrix punk.
There is very little to recommend in this confusing production. There are supporting characters who manage to keep our interest and do their best to handle the challenges of this strange script. However, between a play that can’t decide which storyline to emphasize, a production design that doesn’t support the script, staging that’s muddled and unfocused and leading actors who are miscast, sometimes unintelligible and whose performance styles seem headed in different directions, audiences might want to wait for a different dramatic interpretation. Better yet, why not rent one of the many fine Basil Rathbone film versions available on DVD. It’s simply elementary.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 24-November 29 by Broadway in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at all Ticketmaster locations, at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.