Theater Review: THE REMARKABLE MISTER HOLMES (North Coast Repertory in Solano Beach)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 31, 2022

in Theater-San Diego


When we think of Sherlock Holmes in the dank, foggy streets of London, investigating death and deception, probably the next thought we have isn’t, “This would really work as a musical comedy.” Fortunately director/playwright David Ellenstein and lyricist/co-playwright Omri Schein don’t think like us; they saw the funny in it, and now we can, too.

(Front) Deborah Gilmour Smyth & Katy Tang; (middle) Andrew Ableson & Katie Karel;
(back) Tony Perry, Bart Shatto, Sharon Rietkerk, David McBean & Phil Johnson

The only familiar character for us is Holmes himself (Bart Shatto) who primarily plays the straight man to the insanity of those around him. Shatto himself gets some laughs, but it’s primarily in his reaction to what goes on around Holmes, which walks the right side of farce, slapstick, and mockery of nineteenth-century British class structure.

Sharon Rietkerk & Bart Shatto

So where is his partner Dr. John Watson? Off to a mine he inherited in Argentina apparently, creating an opening for his younger sister Sheila to step into the picture (Sharon Rietkerk). In contrast to John, Holmes is frustrated by her boldness and lack of deference to him, but he cannot deny that she has a wit about her which aids him.

(Front) Katie Karel; (middle) Andrew Ableson, David McBean,
Deborah Gilmour Smyth & Phil Johnson; (back) Tony Perry

The humor primarily lies in a delightful bunch of misfits who aid, hamper, and mislead the duo in solving the murders of religious leaders who have come to town for an interfaith conference and jewel show. Does that not make a lot of sense? You won’t care; as with much of this show, it’s just what is, and we’re laughing enough to roll with the punches.

Bart Shatto & Deborah Gilmour Smyth

Despite including one of the greatest characters of literature and this new sidekick version of Watson, The Remarkable Mister Holmes is very much an ensemble production with a fairly even division of stage time and singing between the nine actors. Seven players contribute multiple roles — Elisa Benzoni‘s costumes greatly aid the talented ensemble.

David McBean & Katy Tang

While none of Daniel Lincoln’s tunes will be stuck in your head afterward (including a wonderfully intricately three-person overlay fugue), the melodies work well in the moment to deliver Schein and Ellenstein’s comedy and, occasionally, slipped-in sentimentality .

Katy Tang & Phil Johnson

If wordplay isn’t your thing, run from this, because there’s a lot of it here, and it’s delightfully executed in song twists, malapropisms from two non-native English speakers, and a plethora of naughty double entendres. And if the vocabulary fireworks ever dim for a moment, Phil Johnson’s mugging as the icky Baron Gustav von Schwanz will more than fill in the humor gap.

Katie Karel & Phil Johnson

As for the plot, Act I appears that this is only playful, elementary (if you will) silliness, yet the work pays off solidly in Act II with notable tie-in clues from mostly forgotten plot points in the first act. The writers manage to create more substance in the mystery than would’ve been expected, while still keeping the second half boldly humorous.

In the end, it’s good-spirited fun for much-needed laughs.

Tony Perry

photos by Aaron Rumley

The Remarkable Mister Holmes
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
plus matinees at 2 Fri, July 22 & Wed August 10
ends on August 21, 2022
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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