Highly Recommended ***** A World Premiere Musical has opened at the Mercury Theater Chicago, that lovely gem of a theater on Southport. The newest of musicals to hit Chicago, is one that has taken a great deal of time and energy and patience on those involved to get to this place. It has also taken a great deal of love and heart. The book is by local actor John Reeger, who along with the late Julie Shannon created the holiday favorite “A Christmas Schooner” which now calls The Mercury its winter home. Ms Shannon had also written the music and lyrics on this unfinished project; one that with her passing, was placed in a drawer with lost dreams. The play, “The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes” was written as a role that Mr. Reeger felt was his to play. As the years went by and the dust began to grow, the actor, playwright also aged out of the role.
You must know that the development of this show began some twenty years ago when Reeger read a book by Peter Costello called “The Real World of Sherlock Holmes” that went into the depths of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which the author was involved in finding answers to a real crime. This became the basis of his dream and he knew that this would be his greatest role. As it turns out, the years mellowed him and while his ideas were back-burnered, during the readings they did over the years, more and more, it seemed like this play could indeed become a reality.
Fast forward to 2014 when Walter Stearns decided to do yet another reading. Seeing the potential, he decides that his theater would be the ideal showcase for this new musical. Now, they had to find someone to assist with the final touches on the score that Ms Shannon had started. Michael Mahler. composer and lyricist of “Hero” and “October Sky” and co-writer of “How Can You Run With A Shell On Your Back” ( I loved this kids show with a message) was just the right person to finish the work that Julie had started. In fact, watching this entire production unfold, and knowing her work from “Schooner”, I can see that Mahler truly understood where Shannon was coming from and her mental attitude towards the story through lyrics and music. Sheer perfection, Michael.
The production is smoothly directed by Warner Crocker with the assistance of Rachel Rockwell on a smartly designed set by Scott Davis. The set is simple, but workable and scenes flow easily to keep the story intact. I would imagine on a larger stage with a larger budget, there would be or could be a great deal more, however, this is a story that is about characters and the music, and of greatest importance is the quality of the actors that they have cast in this initial production of a play that I can see being around for many years.
I certainly do not want to ruin the mystery for you, so I will not divulge it all. I will tell you that the story begins with Sherlock Holmes being killed. Since he is a fictional character, it is indeed the character that is killed as Doyle (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Aaron Lindner) has decided that he needs to search for a new character to write about. The people of London are upset at their hero being killed and are after Doyle’s head, so he leaves town for the country as per his ailing wife’s request (McKinley Carter). As it turns out, a friend, Reverend Edajlji (Anish Jethmalani) and his wife, Charlotte (Mary Ernster, who plays other roles as well), have a son George(deftly handled by Johann George), who has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and they ask Doyle to use his powers of mystery solving to prove him not guilty.
That my friends is the story. Doyle goes to the “country” and begins his quest. Along the way, however, he finds that his character, Sherlock Holmes, is with him. He, of course, is only visible and audible to Doyle as he is also there fighting for his very existence. Can Doyle let him die if he helps him to solve this mystery? We are watching two remarkable actors work their chemistry on the stage. Sherlock Holmes is played by Chicago favorite Nick Sandys (who has a great accent and a very English appearance- in fact, he is spell-binding in this role). One might say that while Reeger imagined this as the role of his lifetime, based on what I saw on the stage of the Mercury, Reeger wrote the part for Sandys (despite not knowing him when he began the concept).
This is a very strong ensemble piece. The always reliable David Girolmo as Sergeant Campbell and others, Jason Grimm as Professor Moriarty and others, Christina Hall as Molly Jamison, Ronald Keaton (fresh off his hit show “Churchill” and back in town, Russell Mernagh Colette Todd, Matthew Keffer (who just keeps showing us his ability to play character roles) and Russell Mernagh. They play a number of roles and have several costume changes ( Robert S. Kuhn’s costumes are terrific). The lighting (Yael Lubetzky) and sound (Mike Ross and Joe Court) all add to the over all production. Mahler’s musical direction is precise and Linda Madonia conducts the other four musicians to perfection. They are never over powering which in a smaller venue can happen. Nice work- Miles Tesar, Sarah Younker, Kelsee Vandervall and Elena Spiegel.
“The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes” will continue at The Mercury Theater Chicago through March 20th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $25-$65 and can be purchased by calling 773-325-1700 or in person at 3745 N. Southport or of course, online at www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com
Valet parking is available at the door. There is a lot about one block north of the theater and street parking (mostly metered) is available. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes”
Put this one on your TO SEE list!!