Kyle Stonr, Justin Mousseau and John DiDonna in ‘My Dear Watson.’
By Samuel L. Leiter
Mainstream pickings on and Off Broadway are slim this summer but aficionados have an abundance of choices from among the town’s various theatre festivals. Perhaps the most notable is the New York Musical Festival, whose 14th edition is offering dozens of works over a period of 28 straight days at noteworthy venues throughout New York City.
Given the NYMF’s impressive track record, which includes four shows that have made it to Broadway, plus 33 that have had commercial or not-for-profit Off Broadway futures, adventurous theatregoers have a chance of stumbling across what may become the next big thing. But with so many shows involved, it’s just as likely that they’ll miss the good and wander into the bad and ugly. For instance, My Dear Watson: A Sherlock Holmes Musical, book, music, and lyrics by Jamie-Leigh Bartschi, who’s been working on it for nine years.
Shows produced on a dime deserve critical leeway when one considers the constraints under which they operate, including limited scenic, costume, and lighting resources. But so much else is clearly wrong with My Dear Watson, I humbly suggest that the show would suffer—if not quite so much—even under optimal circumstances.
Sherlock Holmes may be the most overused character in modern entertainment media. Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth has been co-opted by comic books, board games, radio, films, television, the internet, and theatre. The latter produced multiple plays and two big musicals, Broadway’s Baker Street (1965), which ran 311 performances, and Sherlock Holmes: the Musical, seen at London’s Covent Garden in 1989.
So the question is: do we need another Sherlock Holmes show? And does the new one add something new and unusual to the tradition? The answer to both, my dear Watson, is elementary: no!
Even Holmes might be baffled by this structurally flimsy, inexpertly performed, two-hour, musical corpse. In Act One, we have a mystery regarding a man whose face has been shot off, and in Act Two we observe Holmes’s (John Didonna) confrontation with his eternal nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (Jason Blackwater). The two halves do not, shall we say, fit cleanly.
Perhaps Bartschi thought she was being original by hinting at Watson’s (Kyle Stone) homoerotic affection for Holmes, as underlined when he sings (if you could call it that) “Where Are You, My Friend?” when Holmes goes missing. Neither the song nor the way he sings it would be likely to spark similar feelings in the pipe-smoking investigator. On the other hand, in the Bricusse musical, Holmes so misses the presumed dead Moriarty he sings, “Without Him There Can Be No Me.”
My Dear Watson is so lamely acted, sung, and staged (by the same person who miscasts himself as Holmes), it’s almost a parody of bad theatre, the way Bill Murray used to lampoon lounge singers on Saturday Night Live. But comedy (apart from several weak jests) seems the last thing on anybody’s mind; the writing and squawking (I mean singing) are so amateurish they forced me to contemplate whether I was cringing or wincing.
My Dear Watson is a dance-free, book-heavy musical containing a mere 11 songs, most so tuneless and clogged with unsingable talk-song verbiage they need lyricist Drano. This is essentially a play with songs, almost none of them organically necessary. Production numbers are nil, and only one song, “Little Things,” involves more than two singers, a definite blessing when the cast is reminiscent of the bottom rung of discarded American Idol auditioners.
My Dear Watson may be a mystery play but the big mystery is why, after nine years of work, it’s not any better. On the other hand, maybe this is a good time for the Encore series or someone else to revive Baker Street or Bricusse’s show so we can see for ourselves if there’s musical theatre smoke in the British detective’s everpresent pipe.
My Dear Watson
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 W. 42nd St., NYC
Closes July 16
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. A voting member of the Drama Desk, he has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).