Sherlock Holmes Comedy Performed at Stockton on Saturday

A Walnut Street Theatre Production
Feb 06, 2018

What do you get when you mix a jigger of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a shot of Ken Ludwig and a generous splash of Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre?

The hilarious play “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 on Stockton University’s Performing Arts Center stage.

Doyle introduced the world’s most famous “consulting detective” in his novel A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887. It was far from a bestseller, but when a new British publication, The Strand Magazine, started featuring Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories in 1891, sales took off, reaching a peak with the serialization of The Hound of the Baskervilles from August 1901 to April 1902. Sir Arthur would continue to pen his detective stories until 1927.

In 1899 an American actor, William Gillette, joined the fun, writing a play titled “Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner,” in which he played the title character some 1,300 times and, in 1916, converted to a silent movie. Since then, many other plays, movies (Guinness World Records lists Holmes as the “most portrayed movie character”) and television series have followed, with famous Holmes portrayers including Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. Add an almost uncountable number of pastiches, many written by esteemed authors, and it is apparent the love of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson hasn’t faded one bit.

Ludwig is a playwright best known for his extraordinary farce “Lend Me a Tenor” and his book for the musical “Crazy for You.” He has written 18 plays and the books for three musicals, racking up two Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, the British equivalent of a Tony, along the way. As Neil Simon slowed down with age, Ludwig stepped up to fill the void. The Times of London said Ludwig is “the purveyor of light comedy to Middle America,” adding “there is hardly a regional theatre in America that hasn’t a work of his scheduled.”  He’s not just popular in the States – his plays have been performed in more than 20 languages in over 30 countries throughout the world.

Ludwig jumped into the Holmes mix in 2011 with “The Game’s Afoot,” a comedy-mystery based around Gillette, who has to turn into his famous character to solve a murder. It won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Play, presented each year by the Mystery Writers of America.

That success led Ludwig to write “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which premiered in January 2015 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Another comedy-mystery, it employs the device used by playwright Patrick Barlow in his comedic masterpiece “The 39 Steps,” in which four actors played over 150 parts, which, of course, required quick-changes galore. There are five actors in Ludwig’s show, playing about 40 characters. Ludwig is a master of the elements of classic farce such as mistaken identities and simultaneous exits and entrances, so the actors-playing-multiple-characters trick would seem to be a natural for him.

The Stockton production of “Baskerville” comes via the Walnut Street Theatre, where it ran from Jan. 2 through Feb. 4. It is a safe bet to say that it was far from the first Holmes play performed at that Philadelphia landmark – an actual National Historic Landmark – considering the WST is the country’s oldest extant theater, founded in 1809. The famous playhouse is still going strong, with more than 55,000 season ticket holders, making it the most subscribed theater company in the world, and over 350,000 total attendees each season.

So, put the pieces together: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ken Ludwig and the Walnut Street Theatre. If the whole is greater than its parts, be careful. You could die laughing!

Tickets for “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” at Stockton are $33 for adults and $12 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at Stockton.edu, by phone at 609-652-9000 or at the box office, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for 90 minutes before the performance.

—Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

 

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