North Coast Repertory Theatre Closes 40TH Season with Musical Murder Mystery World Premiere

The Remarkable Mister Holmes is a Funny Time Full of Live Music and Naughtiness 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Front (L-R) Gilmour-Smyth & Tang; Middle Row (L-R) Ableson & Karel;
Back Roq (L-R) Perry, Shatto,
Rietkerk, McBean & Johnson – photo by Aaron Rumley
This new version with a modern dynamic that keeps the foggy British humor and classic Sherlock Holmes mystery solving thread has a book written by Omri Schein and North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein with music by Daniel Lincoln. The nine-person cast, a large cast for the small space that is NCR theatre surely represented a titanic effort to Ellenstein who also directed the two-hour and change piece. Even though I believe it is a tad long, I found it to be very dynamic and very naughty too filled with inuendos and just hidden laughs that sneak up on you.

All the actors have amazing vocals and keep up the fast-paced rythm with their essence and comedic flare. Not giving much away, the story starts with a couple of murders immediately solved by an "onlooker" who turns out to be Holmes (Bart Shatto) in disguise. The scenes seem pretty bare but then there is an unveiling of a truly magical, gorgeous set design by Marty Burnett whose work is beautiful and always rocks at NCR's presentations however, this time it was taken around 10 steps further as it was a set with traveling boxes that as they turn and open, have a different look and function. For example, one would be a closet space where Mr. Holmes pulls out his coats from. Another is a gold backdrop for a luxurious hotel. Another creatively thought and executed factor is that usually with these types of set pieces that are changed around constantly through the story, as an audience member, you get tired of the moving around and the stage crew with their headpieces coming to the scene to wheel out a table or wheel in a door. In this case, the crew was dressed in period pieces as housemaids. I sort of got the idea of them assisting the scene and I loved it. Very well resolved and not tiresome at all.

Katie Karel & Phil Johnson – photo by Aaron Rumley
Sherlock Holmes is in his office confirming the lining/order of his morning papers with his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) when he receives the unexpected visit of Sheila Watson (Sharon Rietkerk), who has not seen her brother John in over twenty years. Holmes has not seen him either in some days and Sheila confirms he is down in Argentina because he just inherited a mine. Murders of different religious authorities in a luxury hotel start happening and each body is left with a religious artifact as a clue. Hence the mystery-solving element. There is also a luxurious jewels exhibit about to take place in the hotel where Artemis (David McBean) is the manager and Phylis (Katy Tang) the hotel maid. Gerda and Gustav Von Schwanz (Katie Karel and Phil Johnson) are the curators of the fine jewelry exhibition. An odd German couple that is not shy when it comes to anti-Semitic remarks. The execution from both actors is hilarious, especially Katie that articulates every expression with slapstick and physical ability. The jokes did make me cringe a little. To each, their own...

Andrew Ableson plays every one of the religious men being murdered which included a Rabbi, a drunken Bishop, a Texan Pastor?, and a Hindu Swami maybe? All these characters have their accents and mannerisms and Ableson does a great job. Still in my eyes -call me conservative- taking comedic jabs at these figures in these present times is minefield territory.

There is a combo dynamic of dialogue and breaking into song. The vocals are there and each of the cast members has an opportunity to show them off with live musicians too which will always add value. Eager to solve mysteries too, Sheila follows Holmes to the crime scenes and drafts her own conclusions along with Inspector Lestrade (Tony Perry) who's worked with Mr. Sherlock for years and years putting murderers away.

David McBean & Katy Tang – photo by Aaron Rumley
Every single member in the cast is on point and funny, displaying high-caliber training and experience. But the women! the women take the piece for sure and this is coming from a David McBean and Phil Johnson fan! Sharon Rietkerk is fantastic as Sheila, a total natural that also prints a nice elegant flair to the character. Katie Karel, again, is hilarious with her deep stairs and dancing eyes. Katy Tang as the innocent Phyllis who is an orphan and is bossed around in the luxury hotel where she works all the way from her lost look to her feet inward and her thick accent is lovely. Beautiful voice too. And what is to say about Deborah Gilmour Smyth, a San Diego theatre icon. I had seen her in more dramatic plays so this was a cool change definitely.

Just like North Coast always delivers with the set design, same with the costume design. Elisa Benzoni does it again from the long British coats to the gorgeous dresses with colors that just pop! There are two, in particular, a forrest green taffeta dress that is gorgeous as well as a bright almost neon blue made great elements that round the piece.

The Remarkable Mister Holmes is very entertaining and funny. It would have been better shorter but hey, still worth the drive. In this case I would recommend a matinee and it is also a great opportunity to see all this talent together in one stage. Playing until August 21. For performance dates and times please click HERE.

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