By Ron Fassler . . .
A Sherlock Carol, a new play now at New World Stages on West 50th Street, invites us to a mashup featuring two of the most famous literary characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes and Ebenezer Scrooge. Brought together by playwright Mark Shanahan, they have arrived just in time for the holiday season in a whodunnit that sets the famous sleuth afoot (as Holmes is forever fond of saying) to decipher who may have killed the famous miser. Long a part of world literature, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, was published in 1843 and Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced his brilliant detective in 1887’s A Study in Scarlett. Sixty more mysteries followed for Holmes to solve—all over a mere eight years. And Dickens… well, let’s not get started with his prodigious output. Scrooge and Holmes have been ubiquitously in dramatized films and teleplays that go back to when those mediums were in their infancies. In fact, Sherlock Holmes is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fictional living human most portrayed in any media—254 films and counting.
I bring this up because if we are going to see either (and especially both) of these characters again, we need to have a clever enough reason to do so, which Shanahan has provided. What A Sherlock Carol proposes is that many years after Scrooge’s rehabilitation (spoiler alert: he reforms his miserly ways at the end of A Christmas Carol), the old man is found dead in his study, possibly the victim of foul play. Holmes is brought onto the case, his own soul in need of a similar sort of fixing as Scrooge’s once was, and there we have the meeting of character and destiny which the play wishes to address. In its two acts, it covers a lot of ground, using the ghost of Scrooge to weave in and out a bit like Dickens has Jacob Marley do (though not to as chilling effect). If you know your Dickens and you know your Doyle, you’ll enjoy the many hidden treasures to be found in the literary sense. As but one example, A Christmas Carol’s opening sentence “Marley was dead, to begin with,” is parodied by the first line of A Sherlock Carol, “Moriarty was dead, to begin with,” which references Holmes’ most famous nemesis. Playful and punchy in its twists and turns, A Sherlock Carol takes us on a journey all over London with Holmes (a pitch-perfect Drew McVety) and Scrooge (the always reliable Thom Sesma) the sole members of the company who do not take on numerous parts.
All the other roles are played by just four other actors, a fine ensemble of players, who manage young and old, reversing their own male and femaleness if need be, in whimsical portrayals. A great deal of dazzling quick-change artistry is involved (no doubt with the aid of a few backstage helpers), and credit needs go to this talented quartet: Dan Domingues, Anissa Felix, Isabel Keating and Mark Price, in particular, who handle every new accent with a marvelous felicity. When Price plays a housekeeper in verbal parries with McVety’s Holmes, it brought visions to me of them being cast as Professor Henry Higgins and Mrs. Pearce, though that’s for another production. Amy Jo Jackson is the dialect coach responsible for the precision of her splendid cast’s various British accents utilized throughout the show.
On a simple set designed by Anna Louizos, Linda Cho’s costumes and Rui Rita’s lighting pay perfect complement to envisioning 1894 London. A few Christmas carols sung in the show, and even a bit of snow, add to a feeling of warmth, though the proceedings are set in the cold. It was a pleasure to notice, while exiting the theatre, that a number of small children had been present at the matinee I attended. Quietly attentive, it proves that something doesn’t have to be classified as children’s theatre for it to easily entertain children. Bring the whole family. A Sherlock Carol is a delight. No humbug.
A Sherlock Carol is at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, NYC, currently scheduled through January 2nd. www.ASherlockCarol.com
Photos: Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade