Reviews - Jan 2020
Ken Ludwig has made quite a name for himself as a playwright, and there's almost certain to be one of his shows either being performed on a given weekend in the Orlando area, or in rehearsals. I've seen or been part of several productions of his works, but 'Baskerville' was new to me, and frankly a tad disappointing. Only one portion of that disappointment can be laid at the feet of Melon Patch or the director, Jennifer Mendez. I'll return to that in a bit.
The concept of a Sherlock Holmes farce isn't new - the recent appalling 'Holmes and Watson' movie as an example - and it's rarely done very well. Holmes' humor tended to brief flashes of wit, and slapstick or vaudeville-type humor would have bored him or been beneath notice (in my opinion). So a farcical comedy containing Holmes has an uphill battle with a character that never exhibited any such comedic leaning. Simply, the best possible answer is the 'duck out of water' trope for Sherlock; and THAT wasn't Ludwig's plan here, with Sherlock doing/acting very un-Sherlock-like.
The concept is to take the great 'Hound of the Baskervilles' story and 'yuk' it up. Parts work - away from the original dynamic duo of Holmes and Watson, the rest of this cast does a great job, and with lesser actors it might be a problem. The 5 actors here play more than 40 roles; Watson is *always* Watson, lucky for actor Daniel Roscoe who therefore is allowed to stay in the same costume. Holmes (played by Shelley Whittle) has a few costume changes as, like his literary self, he enjoys wearing disguises on occasion. This leaves the wide majority of those 40+ characters to be played by three actors, and Mendez outdid herself on casting: Tad Kincade, Dustin Lavine and Katy Polimeno throw off accents and costume pieces easily, work off one another with aplomb, and generally seem to have a great and exhausting time on stage. Kincade shuffles between Texas and various English accents well; Polimeno (as she describes in her bio) seems somewhat schizophrenic in how easily she jumps from German to Cockney to east European (Hungarian?) and back again while showing each character as a different person. Lavine is marvelous at physical comedy, and showed his chops with improv and the odd bon mots as well. Their adlibs are usually funnier than the written lines, although for all I know they were scripted...The show works as well as it does because of these three, and Mendez's decision to let them loose and see what happens. Sherlock and Watson, more often than not, must be the straight men for the rest of the characters, and it's when they try to be funny things get choppy.
Here's what I keep dancing around: Whittle is a VERY good actor, with a list of credits as long as my arm. I've only caught him in one other production so far (Tavares Community Theater's 'The Butler Did It' last November, as Marlowe the hard-boiled gumshoe), and he was all but typecast; the role could have been written with him in mind. But Sherlock...not so much. Whittle is also good with physical comedy, and his bug-eyed shock is hilarious - but wouldn't ever appear on Sherlock's face.
In my opinion, Whittle does the best he can but shouldn't have been cast as Holmes. Roscoe does a great job as Watson, but I'd have switched the two actors to keep more in line with how the characters were classically written; Roscoe being taller than Whittle. Having Holmes shorter than Watson was a bit jarring for me - and yes, obviously I like Holmes and am quite familiar with his stories. Would someone who's never read a Holmes' story perhaps not find the height exchange an issue? Quite probably, but it was an issue for me.
(For what it's worth; my SO thinks my concern over actor heights vs. character heights is ridiculous, and strongly disagrees with my assessment here -CI)
Between the original flawed premise and my personal issues with Sherlock's portrayal, I can't help but think that 'Baskerville' is a case of what might have been, perhaps with the humor using a squirting daisy lapel pin rather than a seltzer bottle. That said, much of this is funny (sometimes on purpose!), and kudos to Kincade, Lavine and Polimeno for their energy and on-pitch stagecraft.
Rating: B (A- if you're not a big Sherlock Holmes fan)
(Edited: I erroneously credited The Butler Did It to Moonlight; it was Tavares Community Theater. I've corrected the text; thanks to Shelley Whittle for a) reading the review, and b) letting me know I blew it. :-)
"The Drowsy Chaperone" is a show I was unfamiliar with, and the synopsis I found was roughly: Man relives and shares his love of the 1920's Jazz Age. That was NOT the summary Moonlight released, but was from another source I found, and as you might imagine I came in with very low expectations.
And boy was I mistaken. It's rare for me to spend nearly two hours with an uncontrollable smile, but it started about 2 minutes after the production began, and lasted until I was in the parking lot in my car; it only stopped when I didn't win the 50/50 raffle.
The show isn't rocket science. Even now, the nitpicky negatives are: the set wasn't the best I've seen; the costumes were numerous and carried well but has some anachronistic parts; the sound levels were good against the whole cast singing on stage but occasionally drowned out a soloist.
I loved just about everything else.
The cast, and the director LaVonte Rogers, took a good script, added energy and a willingness to throw themselves into their characters, AS A GROUP, that I've rarely seen. The individual actor range from decent to great, but the group is greater than the parts (so to speak) - and this was probably the best production I've seen as a reviewer. It WORKED - bravo to all involved!
The 'Man in the Chair' (Dan Martin) is the narrator of the piece, drawing the audience in to listen one of his favorite records, the cast recording of the 1928 Broadway production of 'The Drowsy Chaperone', which has as it's thin story a wedding that goes wrong. Martin has marvelous comedic timing, and reminded me of an archtypical family Uncle who's a bit 'off' but harmless in his hobbies. I'll be *very* surprised if Martin doesn't win a Best Actor award from Moonlight for this role.
The Bride and Groom are famous Broadway actress Janet Van de Graaf (Marann Curtis) and her fiance, Robert Martin (Jeffrey Lane Sadecky). Their acting outshone their singing chops, but I suspect the material itself did that and can't judge them harshly. Their duet 'Accident Waiting to Happen' was extremely well-done, and (without spoiling the scene, there is apparently a lot of trust between these two) their chemistry here was fantastic.
In one of the funnier scenes - I'm not much of a slapstick fan, but this just clicked for me - Mrs. Tottendale (who's providing the venue for the wedding, played by Denise Truscott) and Underling (her butler, played staggeringly well by Michael Ottinger) go through 8-9 spit-takes in a row, right in Ottinger's face. How they manage to do it without cracking on stage in a mystery, but even with the repetition I thought it hilarious.
In a world of broad characters, *someone* had to be closer to 'normal', and here it's Mr. Feldzeig, Janet's producer (Scot Smith). The part as written is a little flat, and Smith does his best to make sirloin out of hamburger. He's helped in this by Kitty (a chorus member looking to move up to lead in Janet's absence, played by Madison McGrew). McGrew is marvelous as the ditzy and enthusiastic blonde stereotype, but she's so effervescent in the role that the stage may as well have been hers alone.
The final pair I'll try to cover is the actual Chaperone for Janet (played by Brea Gregory) and Adolpho (picture a cheesy Latin lover version of Pepe Le Pew, played with scenery-chewing swagger by Giancarlo Osorio). Gregory (in my opinion, for what that's worth) has the best pipes (or best opportunity to show them off!) in the show, and (SPOILER!) Osorio's character mistakes the Chaperone for the Bride and seduces her in the most egotistical manner possible - a duet of his name ("I am Adolpho").
I don't feel I can say this enough, or more emphatically - GO SEE THIS PRODUCTION. I'll end this with one of the last lines of the show, delivered by the Man in the Chair, that summarizes Moonlight's production in the best way possible:
"It does what a musical is supposed to do. It takes you to another world. And it gives you a little tune to carry with you in your head, you know? A little something to help you escape from the dreary horrors of the real world. A little something for when you're feeling blue. You know?"
Rating: A+: mostly Family friendly, a few double entendres that small children wouldn't get. GO GO GO.