Holmes And Watson Save The Empire
Victoria had a secret, a royal secret – Albert wasn’t right in the head…
Oh my dear giddy aunt. Holmes And Watson Save The Empire, a Oregon Cabaret production, (book and lyrics by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, music by Malcolm Hillgartner) might be one of the most brilliant Holmsian plays, books, or what-have-you I’ve seen in a long, long time. Now, sure, a musical of this dynamic duo may sound rather silly … and silly is what it is, that is true, but blimey, it still packs a lot of emotional and intellectual punch.
Its silly parts alone are quite amusing and brilliant. The running joke – Holmes is looking for something, can’t find it, “Watson, did you move the ___?” “No, I didn’t touch it.” “You must have, I can’t find it!” “I didn’t!” “You di-” [silence] “Oh, here it is!” – is pretty good in itself, but it’s not just a running joke for the sake of having a running joke – it shows that “The Connoisseur of Crime”, as he calls himself here is, as ever, not perfect at all. [Steven Moffat did something similar with his Sherlock and the “we’re out of milk” running joke.] The costumes – some of the best parts of the gags – are a girl (or boy) playing dress-up’s perfect dream. The disguises for Holmes include his “Mortimer Chips” look (a classic cabaret raunchy joke man; curly red wig, outrageously flamboyant suit, and a nice flower just to top it all off), the “Hookah” look (FEZZES ARE COOL, and a very stylish one too; he’s Holmes, he even does drugs with style), and the “Queen Victoria” look (It’s better than it sounds. Well, only a little bit… extra legs, that’s all I’m gonna say). Oh, and naturally, they got Watson in a dress. Good old reliable Watson, he just had a little trouble with the zipper. (He’s really not the sort of guy you see and think “Yeah, a dress would be a great idea on him!”)
AAAANYWAYS, the bromance was cranked up higher than 11 here, muuuch, muuuch higher. Look, even the Director’s Notes include the word bromance in them. (“Our current film industry has coined a new word, and even though it refers to the current crop of movies depicting American males as eternal adolescents who fear commitment, tell “hooter jokes”, and smoke far too much weed, it’s a great word – and it certainly applies to “Holmes And Watson”: It is a ‘bro-mance’.” – Director Michael J. Hume) Think about it like this; They. Danced. The. Tango. OH YEAH. (I added this to my list of most adorable things in the universe). And at the end, there was a hug… aww, wibble. One true friend indeed.
And besides the bromance, well… it was just one song, but it was amazing. I’ve never been a Sherlock/Irene Adler shipper, but I suppose “Into My Arms, A Dream Comes” just about changed that! Brrr. About what he’s given up for the life of intellectual stimulation [hint: Irene], (well, until Watson comes in, harping on about his Mary. I can’t ship them at all, though, because Mary isn’t really a character, just something that pushes Watson in and out of Holmes’ life. I don’t even know her last name!) the song was ever so slightly unexpected after the fun that was “The Science Of Deduction” and the funny little scene that set up the mystery.
Just BAM, and suddenly we have a large plate of angst, surprising but sublime. A note: I could see slight, brilliant touches of the Eleventh Doctor in this Holmes, such as his slight embarrassment over affairs of the heart. In a very Eleven-ish way, it was adorable how he completed the obvious rhyme with ‘miss’, breaking the song and saying it quietly, nearly reddening like a schoolboy. (Actually, as a rule, I loved how he emphasized certain words by saying them. The other time it happened was the end of “One True Friend”, he sang “One true … friend,” like he just discovered that, well, HE’S MY FRIEND, MY ONLY FRIEND, I HAVE A BEST FRIEND, I JUST GOT THAT!) Then, BAM, we’re back to the mystery, what ho old chap, right sticky wicket we’ve gotten ourselves into this time. Never mentioned again. But it was very chilling stuff, a great song vocally too, just beautiful. Rather like “The Doctor’s Wife,” it changed what I thought of Holmes, this version of him anyway.
The mystery itself was certainly intriguing, but still had a high dose of humor. The plotline is scandalous – Prince Albert isn’t dead! Instead, he had a nasty carriage ride, got a bump on the head and suffered a few mental problems. Side effects may include enjoying the theatre – and cross-dressing. So Queen Victoria locked ‘im up in a castle – but he got out and sung at various bars as a German woman (since he always had a woman’s singing voice). To keep a tab on him, the Queen pretended to be his manager – a man.
After figuring this out, the duo prevent an assassination attempt, make rather a mess in the study (MRS. HUUUUDSON?), meet Mortiary (a rubbish, Watson-ish Mortiary – well, it is a two-man show), have a few ridiculously quick costume changes (again, a two-man show) and get shot in the foot. Well, just Watson for that one. Holmes has one last good angst to go with a nice little fake death for Dr. John. Good angst, rubbish “death”. Violin solo, it’s sweet. So when Watson walks back in with a limp and a bandage, joining in with the song, it’s another adorable moment – Holmes tries to hide it all. It doesn’t work. Hug time!
The casting of Holmes And Watson is quite strong as well; I like this Sherlock quite a bit, played by Robin Downward, with his overdramatic nature, his (much more than others) obviously caring nature, his penchant for disguises, more than ever, and all the other usual things that make up a good Holmes. Naturally, his Holmes was very, very different from Moffat’s Sherlock, who is uncaring, (seemingly) emotionally unattached, and, in sum, just an utter jerk. This Holmes, in contrast, seems a splendid fellow, passionate about basically everything. (Also, BLACKBOARD FOR THE WIN.)
Watson was good too, played by Jason Marks, although (as my mom said) played a bit too extra-gay. Flamboyantly so. It wasn’t my favorite portrayal of him, but the bromance was still solidly adorable.
The set was also brilliant, as it felt lived-in and even had a few little nods to the book series, such as the bullet holes spelling “V. R.”
Finally, the violin player as Mrs. Hudson was one last awesome thing that showed the theater’s attention to detail. She had approximately one line, but it was worth it. Her violin playing also added a lot, as did the piano. It sounded like a full band back there!
In conclusion, Holmes And Watson Save The Empire is a rather brilliant musical, and in the hands of the Oregon Cabaret a truly fantastic one. Sadly, its run at the Oregon Cabaret is over today, so I can only say that if you ever see it at another theatre, give it a try. It’ll likely be deliriously fun and certainly silly, but I suppose it all depends on the actors.