A Classical, Classy Musical Ode to Mystery
by Alice Cheng
“Baker Street,” the musical at 42nd Street Moon, brings alive the mystery and nostalgia of Sherlock Holmes, still charming audiences. In signature fashion, Sherlock Holmes (Michael Monagle) sleuths his way through even the most mysterious of mysteries with his studious sidekick Dr. John Watson (Dan Seda). The 1965 music by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel brings this revival of “Baker Street” to life at the Eureka Theatre.
Director Cindy Goldfield worked closely with author Jerome Coopersmith, also present at opening night. Coopersmith’s adaption transforms the beautiful actress Irene Adler (Abby Haug) into an ally instead of an adversary. His version brings romance into Holmes’ bachelor life, while he investigates Professor Moriarty’s (Michael Barrett Austin) theft of the Crown Jewels.
The tall and dashing Holmes looks gentlemanly in his Ulster overcoat and deerstalker cap, speaks smugly during deductions, and strides smoothly into danger. Monagle faithfully reflects the classical Holmes, with a quick and confident voice.
The shorter, pudgier Watson, in contrast to the sharp wit of Holmes, records everything in a notebook and dutifully narrates the action—rather than taking part. Holmes’ brilliance is often underplayed. When Holmes easily escapes the chains that bind him and Watson neutralizes a bomb with Adler’s hat pin, the scene unrolls with perfunctory aplomb.
Though Holmes presents a strong presence, the alluring Irene Adler sparkles in the show. Haug sings beautifully and coquettishly in “Letters,” where she reads through her stash of collected love letters, impersonating each lover. One moment she is regal, the next shy, the next groveling—with a Southern accent, all charmingly done.
When she sings,“What a Night This Is Going to Be,” she underscores the excitement of Holmes, Adler and Watson before they head out on their adventures. At the end, Adler sweetly croons, “I’d Do It Again,” satisfying the most sentimental person in the audience.
Subtle touches by the supporting cast move along the action, crucially. The Baker Street Irregulars, five street hooligans completely loyal to Holmes (Andrew Mondello, Alison Quin, Tobiah Richkind, Jesse Cortez, and Stephen Vaught), provide vaudeville dancing and ruddy Cockney ruddiness. They shine against the backdrop of the dark London streets. A chorus of criminals in colorful drag at a funeral parlor provides comic relief, just before Holmes discovers the location of the missing Crown Jewels.
Even without a full orchestra, 42nd Street Moon’s rendition, with the help of writer Coopersmith, still exceeds expectations. Musical Director Dave Dobrusky provides masterful music at the single onstage piano, reminiscent of black and white silent films. Witty musical elements surprise, such as shoes thudding and a wind machine whirring. They add an unexpected musical wit.
Minimal physical set transitions are supplemented by fast and effective background changes with a projector. First, we enjoy the Victorian splendor of the Holmes-Watson flat; and then we are transported to a dark alley in London. These visual and audio elements seduce us into following their fluid exploits.
It is a tall order to capture even one adventure of the infamous Sherlock Holmes on stage, and in a musical form. However, “Baker Street” hits all the right notes and presents a new perspective with the singing Sherlock. It is “Precisely!” the right amount of mischief and excitement for a mystery lover’s night out.
“Baker Street” by Jerome Coopersmith, directed by Cindy Goldfield, at 42nd Street Moon at Eureka Theatre, San Francisco, California, through Sunday, November 20, 2016. Info: 42ndstmoon.org
Michael Barrett Austin, Jesse Cortez, Abby Haug, Scott Maraj, Michael Monagle, Andrew Mondello, Stephanie Prentice, Alison Quinn, Tobiah Richkind, Lindsey Marie Schmeitzer, Dan Seda, Kalon Thibodeaux, and Stephen Vaught.