'Holmes & Watson Save the Empire, A Musical Mystery'

The game's afoot and Holmes and Watson are back in town to save the British Empire.

That's the premise of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre's newest offering, appropriately titled "Holmes & Watson Save the Empire, A Musical Mystery," with book and lyrics written by Ashland locals Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner.

And a very musical mystery it is. Beginning with a song-and-dance routine out of British music halls, it quickly becomes a race to foil a dastardly scheme to reveal Queen Victoria's shocking secret and thus bring down the straight-laced image of the British Empire. All this, of course, is aptly silly and cleverly over-the-top. That the "secret" sublimely morphs with Holmes' more and more outrageous deductions just adds to the fun.

It all starts out with Holmes' pickpocketing a silver cigarette case, presumably belonging to Queen Victoria's womanizing, wastrel son. It soon becomes a devious plot involving a large German soprano, her gnomish accompanist and a valiant royal charade. Mix this with an ingenious anagram, the evil Moriarty, a scheme to murder our stalwart detectives that can only be foiled by hashish inhaled through a hookah, and some almost unrecognizable Mozart and — well, you get the idea.

Hillgartner has written some dandy tunes to go with the action. Combined with OSF veteran Michael J. Hume's crisp direction and Suzanne Seiber's nimble choreography, it all comes together very nicely indeed.

Robin Downward as Holmes and Jason Marks as Watson are absolutely delightful. The emphasis here is on the characters' odd couple relationship. "Where did you put my blackboard," Holmes bellows to Watson. "I didn't touch your blackboard," Watson responds, aggrieved. And so on. Watson genuinely admires Holmes' detective skills and Holmes thrives on having Watson as an appreciative audience. It's a buddy comedy without working too hard at it.

Both Downward and Marks are deft comedians and have strong, professional voices. They carry off their solos — not easy with some of the silly lyrics — and blend into beautiful harmonies. Crystal Reeves on violin (as well as doing double-duty as a housemaid) and Megan Iverson on piano carry off the music chores with aplomb.

Beecham and Hillgartner have previously written for the Cabaret, notably "They Came From Way Out There" and "Chaps." They are also well-known best-selling authors for teen and children's books. They bring a kid's glee at corny jokes and outrageous antics to this piece and it comes off just fine.

Craig Hudson provided the busy, decidedly Victorian set and Kerri Lea Robbins the colorful and amusing costumes.

"Homes & Watson" plays at the Cabaret through June 5. For more information, call 541-488-2902.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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