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Review: In A Sherlock Carol, Sherlock (With Help From Scrooge) Finds the Reason for the Season

Mark Shanahan's new play runs at New World Stages through the holidays.

Drew McVety and Thom Sesma in A Sherlock Carol, written and directed by Mark Shanahan, at New World Stages.
(© Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

Is there anything so ripe for the picking, so readily adaptable as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes? Mark Shanahan has married the actually not-so-unlikely duo of Doyle and Dickens for A Sherlock Carol. Drew McVety leads the cast as the titular sleuth in this joyful new production now running at New World Stages.

Shanahan, whose previous works include multiple Christmas Carol adaptations, has directed productions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, so he is clearly in his element for this holiday-season mash-up. And while Sherlock has received modern touches with onscreen adaptations such as Sherlock and Elementary, Shanahan goes traditional here.

In London, 1894, Holmes has lost his way three years after the death of his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, at Reichenbach Falls. "Moriarty is dead to begin with," the company says, playing on A Christmas Carol's opening line. When Dr. Timothy "Tiny Tim" Cratchit, played lovingly by Dan Domingues, shows up at Holmes's pub and asks him to take on the case of his possibly murdered benefactor, Ebeneezer Scrooge (played by an underused Thom Sesma), the game is afoot.

With McVety and Sesma in singular roles, an ensemble of four actors — Domingues, Anissa Felix, Isabel Keating, and Mark Price — perform multiple roles, including Keating as Holmes's former romantic partner Irene Adler, Felix in the trouser role of Inspector Lestrade, and Price as Watson and Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's housekeeper. The production takes a panto approach, which mostly works as both Felix and Price play up Lestrade and Dilber.

Isabel Keating, Mark Price, Drew McVety, Thom Sesma, Anissa Felix, and Dan Domingues in A Sherlock Carol.
(© Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

McVety's Holmes, plagued by bitterness and boredom, has obvious parallels in Dickens's Scrooge. And Sesma, who despite playing the character best associated with the Dickens' classic (and Christmas disdain, in general), has his time on stage mostly relegated to the beginning of the second act. It's brief but brilliant: he delightfully chews the scenery (with a deviousness reminiscent of Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter), and he leaves us wanting more.

The company wastes no time telling the story throughout, circling the stage, giving us the need-to-knows with a frenetic energy that matches the holiday season itself. Shanahan mostly does a good job at handling all of the moving parts of his own script, but occasionally the direction gets lost. In an awkward moment, Keating's Adler sings "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but confusing the sound design leaves us wondering if we should clap.

Overall, though, A Sherlock Carol''s creative team — which includes scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Linda Cho, lighting design by Rui Rita, original music and sound design by John Gromada, and hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe — has created a simple but effective environment to bring the story to life, allowing for that energy to take charge.

The play makes use of several Holmes adventures, particularly "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," which large parts of the plot are taken from, and pulls straight from the text of "The Scarlet Letter" at one point. And there are supernatural elements that recall "The Hound of the Baskervilles," as well as many other references from some of Doyle's best-known stories.

But A Sherlock Carol doesn't take itself too seriously in referencing its source material: The show is joyful, playful, and clever, and it's clear just how much fun Shanahan and the cast are having — and that joy transfers to the audience. A Sherlock Carol invites you to "catch the holiday spirit" — and you do. It is through and through a show for the whole family. And with the holiday season upon us, a show as warm as A Sherlock Carol comes at the perfect time.

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