Deviating from standard holiday fare, the Spokane Civic Theatre will serve up a holiday mashup of merriment and murder when it presents the regional premiere of “A Sherlock Carol” on Friday. Civic is betting the play that mixes “A Christmas Carol” with “Sherlock Holmes” will be a winning recipe for audiences hungry for a new take on lasting life lessons and lots of laughs.
According to “A Sherlock Carol” director Jerry Sciarrio, fans of both stories will find old delights and new twists.
“It’s a murder mystery and a celebration of the holiday, which is an unusual and refreshing combination,” Scriarrio said. “It’s so fun having something brand new, yet very familiar this time of year.”
Written by Mark Shanahan, “A Sherlock Carol” debuted off-Broadway just two years ago, with critics praising its inventiveness in fusing the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens in an entertaining way. The New York Times called it “a clever, crowd-pleasing holiday comedy,” and the Broadway Blog predicted it will be “an instant holiday classic.”
The play opens on Christmas Eve with Sherlock sulking at home, acting as disgusted with mankind as the original crotchety Scrooge, who most audiences will recall expressed similar sentiments on the night before Christmas . With Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty finally dead and defeated, the once energetic detective is neither merry nor celebratory. Instead, Sherlock has been left bereft and purposeless. Even his old pal Watson can’t entice the hat-wearing, pipe-clutching depressive to partake of some Christmas cheer.
“There is no greater fool than one who shouts ‘Happy Christmas!’ in a city throughout which the foulest of mankind lurks ‘round every corner,” Holmes grouses. “I’ll thank you to leave me alone, Watson.”
(Translation? “Bah, humbug!”)
But Sherlock is thankfully not left alone, and instead receives a visitor named Dr. Timothy Cratchit, who isn’t so tiny anymore. Tim needs help with solving the murder of his friend and benefactor Ebenezer Scrooge, and the detective can’t resist using his superior powers of deduction to try and uncover the mystery.
The actor playing Sherlock is Dallan Starks, a longtime fan of the obsessive detective known for leading with logic and skepticism. Last year, Starks enjoyed portraying a man faced with having to solve a murder case to prove his own innocence in Civic’s “The 39 Steps,” but he said playing Sherlock Holmes has been a lifelong goal.
“I love all the movies, especially the ones with Robert Downey Jr.,” Starks said. “I also love the Sherlock Holmes books, like ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ is my favorite.”
Playing the beloved sleuth has its challenges, Starks admits.
“It’s such a delicate balance because I want to portray Sherlock’s constant observance, but with a little bit of a looseness, so I am playing with that, using my eyes,” Starks said. “He’s so eccentric and strange, but I’m also giving him some vulnerability as well that isn’t usually seen in a lot of versions of Sherlock.”
While the story is heavy at times, from murder and mayhem to regret and redemption, the delivery is filled with silliness and comedic moments.
“We’ve really done our best to keep it a full, exciting, highly visual experience, as well as a theatrical one,” director Sciarrio said. “One of the things that the playwright mentions right off the bat in the script is that he would prefer this to be done in a theatrical way.”
The main characters are Sherlock and Scrooge, played by Gary Pierce, who has embodied the sassy, old miser several times on the Civic stage in years past. The two are supported on stage throughout by four other lively cast members tasked with portraying multiple characters each. They are Jeff Bryan, Rushele Herrmann, Mathias Oliver and Tamara Schupman.
Starks said fans of both Sherlock Holmes’ stories and “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the Easter eggs scattered throughout the show.
“The people who already know both stories are gonna have the most fun with the references,” Starks said.
“Like I don’t really know ‘A Christmas Carol’ that well, but when we were reading through the script the others would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a line from a Christmas Carol,’ ” Starks said. “I had no idea, meanwhile I’m getting every Sherlock reference.”
Would Doyle or Dickens be mortified or disappointed by what they see on stage? Far from it, according to Sciarrio, with a laugh: “I think they’d look at each other and say, ‘Why didn’t we think of this years ago?’ ”