It’s been three years since the grim tussle on the cliff above Reichenbach Falls, where the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty plunged to his death.
But for Sherlock Holmes, the demise of his nemesis has proved unmooring. In London, lawlessness continues apace, yet the great detective has given up the fight. Adrift in ennui, he no longer bothers to ensnare the city’s evildoers. His faithful Dr. Watson, eager to get the band back together, can’t even entice Holmes to come to his house for Christmas.
“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 growls. “I’ll thank you to leave me alone, Watson.”
Bit of a Grinch, isn’t he. Bit of a Scrooge, even. In “A Sherlock Carol,” Mark Shanahan’s arch charmer of a holiday mash-up, Holmes — not Dickens’s Scrooge — is the one who is “solitary as an oyster.”
At New World Stages, Shanahan directs a cast of six, wonderfully led by the Broadway veterans Drew McVety as Holmes and Thom Sesma as Scrooge. Remixing Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens, this is a clever, crowd-pleasing holiday comedy that happens also to be a murder mystery.
It isn’t aiming for sumptuous elegance, like Matthew Warchus’s large-cast, high-design production of Jack Thorne’s “A Christmas Carol,” seen two seasons ago on Broadway. This is a simpler, streamlined affair looking for — and, crucially, finding — silly, festive fun.
On Christmas Eve 1894, the grumpish Holmes is haunted by a spirit: Moriarty, whose presence he feels stalking him everywhere.
And the beatific, reformed Scrooge? Found dead that very day by a doctor who believes there was foul play. A fan of Watson’s stories, the doctor entreats Holmes to investigate — and is thrilled when the uncannily observant detective, while refusing his appeal, says he’s known everything about him since the moment he walked in.
Partisans of “A Christmas Carol” get a sweet thrill as well when Holmes, too arrogant to resist, gives a quick rundown of his intel on this stranger: He was poor in early childhood, illness shadowed his first years of life, the dead man was his benefactor. In an instant, we recognize the doctor — Tiny Tim, all grown up and doing well.
After he tells Holmes that a famous diamond had been on its way to Scrooge, who recently received a death threat, the detective relents and takes the case.
“The game is afoot,” he says, suddenly saucy, tossing one end of his scarf around a shoulder.
And off we go into a sprightly escape of a play with a fine, much-doubling ensemble and a design team trailing reams of Broadway credits: Anna Louizos, set; Linda Cho, costumes; Rui Rita, lighting; John Gromada, music and sound; Charles G. LaPointe, hair and wigs. This production is in very good hands, and so are we.
There is a curious shortage lately of plays to make us laugh, let alone to tickle both children and adults. For admirers of Doyle and Dickens, here’s one.
A Sherlock Carol
Through Jan. 2 at New World Stages, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, asherlockcarol.com. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Apsny News English