The game's afoot for Sherlock Holmes again, this time in a new musical called Holmes!, having the second of two public workshop presentations May 5 at the Disney Institute Performing Center in Orlando, FL.
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!, a musical based on the Arthur Conan Doyle sleuth but not on a specific story, has been developed by the two over the past several years. This latest reading is meant to attract producer interest.
The reading at Disney does not suggest an endorsement by Walt Disney's theatrical arm that produced Aida, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The Institute provides special events for its visitors and the Holmes! reading is one of hundreds of events each year. Mark Harborth directs.
Tickets to the reading are free, but the remaining 8 PM presentation May 5 is full. On May 4, they turned 110 people away at the door, Vollrath said.
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. The earliest written record of the new tuner is Sept. 5, 1993, when Nicholson scribbled on a torn receipt three ideas for what would become the full-length musical.
Was Nicholson a Holmes fanatic?
"Not in the sense that I considered myself a scholar," he 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. A website (www.holmesthemusical.com) was created in 1998 and a demo was recorded in 1999.
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, 31. 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, 33.
The opening number, "Lamplighter," sets the scene for Victorian London. Other songs include "Once in My Life," "Bottoms Up!," "Nothing More," "Life is Hard," "Cricket's Prayer," "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.
-- By Kenneth Jones