Victorian odd couple

Casting is 90 percent of a director's work, so it's been said. Putting the right actors in the right roles lets characters ring true.

Robin Downward and Jason Marks make a good match as everyone's favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of "Holmes & Watson Save the Empire," says the show's director, Michael Hume.

"They're kind of a Victorian odd couple," says Hume. "One is fastidious; the other is sloppy. One is all heart, and the other is all brain."

OCT's two-character, musical mystery opens Friday, April 8, and runs through June 5. The show previews Wednesday and Thursday, April 6-7.

Ashland-based writers Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner penned "Holmes & Watson Save the Empire" a little more than a year ago, commissioned by Milwaukee Repertory Theater in Wisconsin.

"The writers stayed true to the characterizations that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created," says Hume. "The two did their research. They read every book, watched all the old movies with Basil Rathbone and the new one with Robert Downey Jr."

In Beecham's and Hillgartner's musical, Holmes and Watson are trapped at the Baker Street flat with a midnight deadline to solve a deadly riddle set by their archenemy, Professor James Moriarty. It's a tangled puzzle that involves Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, along with a philandering Prince of Wales, The Gaiety Theatre in London's West End, vaudeville characters Mortimer Chips and Freddy Fish, a German cabaret singer and a mysterious inscription on a silver cigarette case. The future of the British Empire is at stake.

Amid the mystery, blackmail and deduction are songs such as "I Always Has an Eye for the Ladies," "Clueless," "Mum's the Word," "The Connoisseur of Crime," "The Game's Afoot," "Hookah!" and "Victoria's Secret."

Downward, of the Randall Theatre Company of Medford, nailed the role of Holmes when he auditioned, says Hume. Downward's career includes musical theater, as well as club, casino and cruise-line shows.

"He's a true song-and-dance man," says Hume. "He's one of those classics that has been around the block. We hired him on the spot."

OCT's artistic staff chose Marks, who is based in Richmond, Va., after viewing the actor's online audition.

"Even though the actors are from different sides of the country, they turned out to be a good mix," says Hume.

Dedicated Sherlock Holmes fans will see plenty of familiar sets and props in OCT's production. "Such as the Persian slipper," says Hume. "Holmes always packed his pipe with tobacco from a Persian slipper."

Musical direction is by Hillgartner, set and lighting design by Craig Hudson, costume design by Kerri Lea Robbins and sound design by Tom Freeman. The show's musicians are pianist Meagan Iverson and violinist Crystal Reeves.

"It's plot-driven musical, and it has moments of absolute silliness and hysteria," says Hume. "It's set in a British music-hall context. There's songs, dances and impersonators just like American vaudeville theater."

Curtain is at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays and at 1 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets cost $19 for the previews, $35 for Friday and Saturday performances, $25 for Sunday, $29 for Sunday matinees and $31 for weeknights. Bistro seating is available on the main floor and the balcony for $16.

Dining is available at 6:30 for 8 p.m. performances, and brunch is available at 11:30 for 1 p.m. matinees. Reservations are required for dinner or brunch. Appetizers, desserts and beverages are available without reservations.

Tickets can be purchased at the theater's box office, by calling 541-488-2902 or at

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