The game's afoot for Sherlock Holmes again, this time in a new large-cast musical called Holmes!, enjoying two days of New York City readings, including 2 PM March 26.
Lyricist-librettist Brett Nicholson and composer Hans Vollrath met in 1995 through their jobs working for Walt Disney World and found they both had an interest writing for the stage. The idea of Holmes! — their musical based on the Arthur Conan Doyle sleuth but not on a specific story — has been developed by the two over the past five years. The show has had packed workshop presentations in Orlando, FL, in recent years, and a concept album is in record stores. A website (homesthemusical.com) was launched in 1998 to promote the site.
The collaborators offered two readings of the show March 25 at The Dramatists Guild in New York, hoping to earn producer interest, followed by the March 26 reading. They had planned fall 2001 readings in New York, but postponed them due to the emotional climate following the terrorist attacks (mayhem in London figures into the plot, and there's a song called "London in Flames"). Mark Harborth, who helmed previous workshop readings, directs the New York performances.
Holmes! brings Sherlock, Dr. Watson and the evil Prof. Moriarty to life. The idea of a musical featuring the famous London detective is not new: Baker Street had a Broadway run in 1965, and there have been several non-musical plays based on the Holmes character.
Was Nicholson a Holmes fanatic? "Not in the sense that I considered myself a scholar," he previously told Playbill On-Line, "but I read the stories since I was young and was always fascinated by them."
After meeting at a work function, the writers kicked around ideas and wrote a song, "Through Your Lens," which was sung at a talent showcase for Walt Disney World employees in 1996. The song was such a hit, the pair continued with the project, though the song was eventually cut.
Over the years, Holmes! was developed in readings where audience feedback was solicited.
Some of the characters from Doyle's stories are part of the musical, but the main narrative is new, Nicholson said. And there is a romantic angle: Holmes is reunited with a woman he hasn't seen in a decade.
"They had come to a crossroads and Holmes chose the path that did not involve her," said Nicholson. In the show, her brother has been kidnapped, and all roads eventually lead to Moriarty, the arch enemy who famously tumbled over a raging falls in the famous death of Holmes. (Doyle was so bombarded with mail after killing his character that he revived the hero.)
"I've tried to remain faithful to the character Conan Doyle created," said Nicholson, so there is a sense that Holmes is pulled between being a man and being a "machine."
The score has a style something like "Les Miz meets Sweeney Todd," said Vollrath.
The opening number, "Lamplighter," sets the scene for Victorian London. Other songs include "Something Here," "Life is Hard," "Bottoms Up!," "Nothing More," "Extraordinary Man," "Cricket's Prayer," "One Man," "London in Flames," "I Used to Know" and more.
Writer Nicholson began his involvement in theatre at an early age, acting and working for 15 years with the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre in Little Rock, AR. He has written several plays for children, including The Miracle Tree, which has been performed at Give Kids The World Kids Village, and was adapted for a puppet troupe and performed throughout Central Florida. His "day job" has been a career with Disney, during which he has been a puppeteer, performer, writer, and an artist-designer with Walt Disney World Entertainment.
Composer Vollrath was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and began studying piano at age six. He was writing music by age 12. He graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in Music Production. He served as production stage manager for the Atlanta Opera, and produced music for television. He toured with Up With People as music director before coming to Orlando. Vollrath is currently production stage manager of music development for Disney Cruise Lines. Contact the collaborators at email@example.com.
— By Kenneth Jones