The game is indeed afoot in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary consulting detective, his loyal companion Dr. Watson and others provide spirited fun along the way in Nashville Children’s Theatre’s ingenious production.
Prolific and highly acclaimed playwright Steven Dietz (Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s 2011-12 Ingram New Works Fellow) adapted Doyle and William Gillette’s 1899 play Sherlock Holmes into a new work that won a 2007 Edgar Allen Poe Award. The storyline is primarily based on two of Doyle’s tales (“A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Final Problem”) with a love interest and some other flourishes thrown in.
Yes, Gillette, Dietz and others have taken liberties with Doyle’s stories and characters over the years; the latest variation is a new TV series with a female Watson called Elementary that premieres Sept. 27 on CBS. The creator of 221B Baker Street’s famous resident appropriately didn’t view his work as holy writ, however; as NCT Producing Director Scot Copeland notes in the program, when Gillette inquired about marrying Holmes in his play, Doyle replied that Gillette could do what he liked, marriage, murder or otherwise.
Holmes (David Compton) already has feelings for opera singer Irene Adler (Marin Miller) when Dr. Watson (Matthew Carlton) introduces us to the story of his friend’s apparent final days. Holmes is hot on the trail of the “Napoleon of Crime” Professor Moriarty (Bobby Wyckoff) when a masked royal (Christopher R.C. Bosen) asks for his help retrieving a photograph taken when Adler and he were lovers.
Trying to get that photo leads Holmes and Watson into Adler and Moriarty’s orbit in unexpected and decidedly dangerous ways, particularly with such nefarious characters as James Larrabee (Steven Berryessa), his sister Madge (Jamie Farmer) and the henchman Sid Prince (Samuel Whited III) lurking about. In the battle of wits who will win? And who will live to tell the tale?
Compton does a fine job balancing the analytical and romantic sides of Dietz’s take on Holmes. He’s got the detective’s supremely confident air, but there’s also a charisma that makes Adler’s attraction to him more believable than it might otherwise be.
Carlton, who makes his NCT debut along with Bosen and Berryessa, grounds his Watson in respect for Holmes that thankfully is not slavish. He clearly understands that a former Army physician who has seen men die in combat is courageous and world-wise; it’s nice to see Watson strongly portrayed as a sensible and sensitive man and not as a slow-witted sidekick.
Miller’s Adler is a match for Holmes in mind, body and spirit. She infuses her character with the right mix of poise and passion, making the sparks that fly between the detective and Adler feel real.
Berryessa, Bosen, Farmer and Whited certainly acquit themselves well in this show, but I want to spend some time writing about the work of the remaining cast member: Wyckoff’s wide range, considerable experience and abundance of talent are on devilishly delightful display in this show.
Moriarty has often been portrayed as an old, stooping man who bears more resemblance to Ebenezer Scrooge than he should. Wyckoff’s ramrod-straight-posture makes him every inch the equal of Compton’s role in terms of physical presence so the battle between the two characters – which are already acknowledged as perfectly-matched intellectuals on opposite sides of the criminal divide – is even more suspenseful and exciting.
There’s also a grace to the cat-like movements made by Wyckoff, who manages in one scene to slip behind Miller’s Adler and place his stiletto on her throat so quickly and smoothly that it’s positively (and appropriately) chilling. Add a menacingly mellifluous baritone delivery of his lines and you have a performance that raises the stakes for this largely light-on-its-feet look at Holmes and his world.
Scott Boyd’s inventive scenic design is dominated by the inner workings of a fine timepiece – decoratively rendered gears appear front, left, right, center and back on the Hill Theatre stage – that underscore the trademark precision, accuracy and (often) mechanical bearing of the lead character. Colin Peterson’s video projections – his terrific rendering of a certain waterfall well-known to Holmes fans is one example – make the set truly come alive.
Patricia Taber’s Victorian costumes are excellent to the last stitch; her sense of colors and textures that will enhance and reveal each character more clearly are as ever on the mark. Bill Rios’ sound design, particularly as the play reaches its climax, is thrilling; and Scott Leathers’ lights give foggy London its atmospheric due.
Sherlock Holmes; The Final Adventure is NCT’s first two-hour play presentation, and it’s also the first time a Theatre For Young Audiences company has done this show. After 81 years NCT is still taking artistic chances and rewarding Nashville audiences with the wonderful results. That makes it elementary to say the 2012-13 season opener is definitely worth a personal investigation by theatergoers.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure runs at Nashville Children’s Theatre (25 Middleton St.) through Oct. 7. An “After-words” Q&A follows the 2 p.m. matinee on Sept. 22 and the 2 p.m. show on Sept. 29 will include open captioning. The times for weekday and weekend shows vary and are available at the theater’s website. Tickets: ($19; $12 for youths up to age 17 and seniors age 65 and older; $11 per person in groups of 10 or more) and more information are available by calling (615) 252-4675 or visiting www.nashvillechildrenstheatre.org. The age recommendation for this show is 10 and up.
*Photo by Colin Peterson of Matthew Carlton as Dr. Watson and David Compton as Sherlock Holmes courtesy Nashville Children’s Theatre.