By PAM HARBAUGH
Cocoa Village Playhouse has a dizzying feast on its hands in Tony Macaulay’s new musical, “Sherlock in Love.” There’s so much there, you don’t know where to begin digging in…is it a comedy? a romance? a thriller?
First, there is the terrific pop music by Mr. Macaulay, the talent behind many iconic ’60s tunes and who also wrote the musicals “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “Windy City.” Here, each song shines with tight orchestrations, reprises, vocal harmonies and wonderful, romantic lyrics.Then there’s Mr. Macaulay’s romantic notion of Victorian London’s legendary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, falling in love amid the re-emergence of Jack the Ripper. And some clever plot points including a jail breakout and involvement of the Royal Family in some unsavory behavior. Not to forget the oh-so-witty introduction of Oscar Wilde who becomes Mr. Holmes’ unlikely sidekick.
Just as he has a deep gift with songwriting, Mr. Macaulay has the same ease with dialogue. He knows how to move a story along with plot, from inciting incident and rising action to conflict and resolution. And he’s also not above a funny nod now and then to the audience — “No ship, Sherlock.”
However, in addition to the murder on the stage, some blood has to spill in the writing of “Sherlock in Love” in order to keep focus on the more important plot points.Such an example is the appearance of Oscar Wilde. How brilliant to pair Mr. Holmes with this foppish dandy. They make such an unlikely pair. We want to see more of the duo, but in another musical of their very own. Here, even as comic relief, the Wilde introduction weighs down the story and adds to an already overlong second act.
Certainly, Cocoa Village Playhouse’s handsome production, directed by Anastacia Hawkins-Smith, moves efficiently. Scenic and lighting designer Ian Cook brings out the dank underbelly of the sinister story with smart scenic units and an array of rear projections of foreboding old London nights. Costume designer Dan Hill dresses it all in appropriate garb. Music director Daniel Klintworth and co-musical arranger J. Thomas Black put their good shine onto the music, which begins with a positively thrilling overture. And choreographer Pamela Larson has fun with “The Ripper Rises!,” an upbeat song about murder and mayhem.
The cast all bring good energy to the stage. Jason Reichman is in solid voice as Sherlock, who sings “Never Felt Like This Before” after first meeting Nell Valentine. Kari Ryan Furr brings both strength and vulnerability to Sherlock’s love interest and joins him in the beautiful duet “Going in with My Eyes Open.” She’s especially fun in Mr. Macaulay’s lively music-hall number “Not Tonight, Josephine.” Another delightful number, “That Same Old Feeling,” is performed by Brian Snyder and Kirstin Williams, who are Dr. Watson and his bride, Lucy Valentine.There are a couple of extremely nice creep out bloody moments with Mr. Ripper — poor Rick Roach must always be cast in these roles because he does a superior job in portraying the villain. Ms. Hawkins-Smith uses him to create an especially startling moment, which we will not spoil by going on about it.
However, the director’s problem here is one of style: How to marry a Victorian setting with music that is decidedly pop. Since there are no waltz-like nor operetta sensibilities to the music, the show’s overall concept needs to embrace the anachronism — use the Victorian costumes and set, but break fourth wall by being self-referential, get modernized in acting style, comically upbeat and over the top. The libretto would support a bolder, more theatrically sophisticated approach and it would throw more focus onto the music.
And no doubt, Mr. Macaulay’s music is the star. It lingers. It’s fun. It’s fresh.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Sherlock in Love” runs through Oct. 11 at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. It performs 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1. Tickets are $16 to $24. Call 321-636-5050 or visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com.