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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009

Milwaukee Rep’s ‘Holmes and Watson’: Quite Right

Theater Review

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Good lord, mystery solved. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson can sing, and sing exceedingly well, indeed. The evidence is amusingly provided by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s world premiere of Holmes and Watson: A Musical Mystery, written by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, whose Dogpark: The Musical enjoyed a successful run in the Stackner Cabaret earlier this year.

The conceit here is that the super-sleuth and his step-slow sidekick/physician/biographer—precisely portrayed by Rep newcomers Michael Santo and Richard Farrell, respectively—are locked inside the Holmes residence at 221B Baker Street and only a handful of hours remain with which to solve a riddle that may underscore a fiendish plot that threatens the stability of the British empire, oh dear!

This two-man show does sputter at the start with a too-long amnesia sequence involving Holmes assuming the identity of a low-rent music-hall entertainer named Mortimer Chips—is there a script doctor in the house?—but once dropped and forgotten, it’s then that Holmes and Watson gathers steam and rolls toward a combustible climax energized by the captivating chemistry between Santo and Farrell.

And the songs, of which there are 15, all engagingly delivered: tuneful for the work at hand, although not necessarily hummable upon leaving the theater. Perhaps the too-busy synthesized pre-recorded music accompaniment is conceptually discordant with the “old English music hall and 19th-century parlor songs” the composer, Hillgartner, intends to evoke.

To these ears, an old-school upright piano backing these tunes would be as effectively evocative of this fin de sicle period as scenic designer Susannah M. Barnes’ exquisitely dressed set of Holmes’ Baker Street digs was to these eyes.

But we’re talking show biz here, pure and simple, and that’s Holmes and Watson, an elementary evening of entertainment, of a kind not found often enough. Case closed.

The Milwaukee Rep’s Holmes and Watson: A Musical Mystery plays through Jan. 3, 2010, in the Stackner Cabaret.

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