Twenty years in the making, Mercury Theater has unveiled the world premiere new musical, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, a delightfully witty romp with the world’s greatest detective and the man who fashioned him. Directed with precision by Warner Crocker, this musical mystery whodunit weaves actual, real world events, with a little dramatic license to aid in the story telling, and constructs a toe-tapping tapestry with grand potential. Murdered was crafted by an exclusively Chicago based creative team, including story writer John Reeger with music and lyrics by the late Julie Shannon and Michael Mahler. Similar in tone to the Tony Award-winning A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder with a dash of supernatural Ghost tossed into the mix, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes is a winning Windy City debut.
The story begins as author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Michael Lindner) has written “The Final Problem” in which he elected to kill off his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur felt artistically stifled by his most famous creation, so his solution was simple, he would forever end the character. Besieged by calls, cries, and an ever growing hostile mob of protestors mounting outside of his home, Doyle agreed to remove himself from London for a holiday and to the country in an attempt to escape the harassment. Once he arrived, he unexpectedly found himself square in the middle of an actual mystery, the real life crime of “The Wyrley Ripper” and a wrongful imprisonment of an innocent man. Here is where the show got a little metaphysical. Manifesting himself in the flesh, Sherlock Holmes (Nick Sandys) proposed to aid Doyle with solving the crime in exchange for a literary reprieve of the sleuth. Both Sir Arthur and Sherlock knew George Edalji (Johann George) was falsely imprisoned, and they join forces to investigate. Although they are in the rural English countryside, the list of potential suspects is long. Who would gain the most by the punishment of the son of the Indian born Reverend Shapurji Edalji (Anish Jethmalani) & his Caucasian wife, Charlotte Edalji (Mary Ernster)only son? Could it be Stillman (the always winning Matthew Keefer) the blacksmith with a chip on his shoulder, Sharp (Russell Mernagh) the handsome mysterious stranger or Pierce (Ronald Keaton) the helpful yet dithering old man? Let’s not forget about Molly (the fantastic Christina Hall) the bar maid with a penchant for reading the adventures of Sherlock. What could she be hiding? Or did racism play a not so subtle part in the deception, dishonesty and deceit? It is wonderful this story kept the viewer engaged and guessing until its satisfying conclusion, with enough red herrings tossed in to make everyone appear a participating potential suspect.
While it may take a bit for the audience to wrap their head around the existence of different realms of reality at work on stage, it takes no time to appreciate the efforts of the creative team who brought this production to life. Scott Davis’ scenic design is nothing less than impressive. Robert S. Kuhn’s period costume design and color palette are spot on. Katie Cordts wig/hair design perfectly clinches everyone’s life station, from upper crust to working class. Yael Lubetzky’s moody and evocative lighting design adds mystery and intrigue as the plot unfolds. Both the script and the score are on their way (but not quite there yet) to truly being a sophisticated charmer. “Do not presume to quote me to me” chortles Sherlock to his creator. “There is nothing more deceptive then the obvious” and “grief is a passageway leading you to the next room” are additional witticisms that caught my fancy. Then the lush score, “A Trip To The Country,” “Look What He’s Done” and “A Three Pipe Problem” each made me wish there was a corresponding cast soundtrack to immediately purchase in the lobby at intermission. Intelligent, cultured and enchanting from first song to last.
When one thinks of the Mercury Theater, “world premiere staging” may not be the first adjective to come to mind. I am thrilled to know that is no longer the case. The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes is a darling, daring and delightful new piece, winningly displayed in this midsized performance house. A new Chicago-crafted musical , The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes intrigues and amuses. While not perfect, this show is a delightful answer to the question “What is an engaging night out?” With that I will simply conclude, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes is now playing at the Mercury Theater Chicago through March 20, 2016