Holmes & Watson Save the Empire! starring Damon Calderwood and Gordon Roberts. Feb. 27-March 16, Wednesdays to Saturdays, 8 p.m. at Deep Cove Shaw Theatre, 4360 Gallant Ave., North Vancouver. Tickets $16/$18 at firstimpressionstheatre. com or 604-929-9456.
THE players behind one of history's most famous fictional duos are harnessing their real-life rapport to light up the stage in North Vancouver.
Longtime friends and theatrical collaborators Damon Calderwood and Gordon Roberts have been cast, respectively, as the crime-solving team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in the First Impressions Theatre presentation of Holmes & Watson Save the Empire!
The show runs Feb. 27 to March 16 at Deep Cove Shaw Theatre.
In preparing for their roles, Calderwood and Roberts discovered a great deal in common between their personalities and those of the characters they play.
"I can tell you right now that Gordon is a little bit like Watson in the sense that he's a little more organized than I am," says Calderwood, a former North Vancouver resident. Like Holmes, Calderwood says he is more "eccentric and discombobulated" in his day-to-day life.
As a friendly pre-rehearsal gesture, Roberts presented Calderwood with a collection of the original Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
"Both me and Gordon have read the books and have been fans, and we share that in common with millions of people, so no big surprise there," says Calderwood.
The upcoming show is not an adaptation of one of Doyle's tales, however, but a brand new comedic mystery with a musical twist.
In Holmes & Watson Save the Empire! the tenants of 221B Baker Street sing, dance and play instruments. Set in Victorian London, the fate of the British Empire lies in the hands of Holmes and Watson as they race to solve a puzzle and outsmart their arch nemesis Moriarty.
Over the course of the show, Holmes, a master of disguise, assumes a number of outrageous identities to help crack the case.
"At one point I pretend to be Queen Victoria pretending to be a man in a gaiety music hall show," Calderwood says. "At another point I'm playing a cockney gaiety music hall drunken performer in disguise."
Calderwood grew up in North Vancouver, graduated from Carson Graham secondary, and now lives in Port Coquitlam where he works part-time as a high school substitute teacher.
He was proactive in bringing Homes & Watson to Deep Cove after seeing the show performed at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Calderwood was drawn to the musical for a number of reasons. The title characters have name recognition, there was a leading role for both Roberts and himself, who have previously shared the stage in Billy Bishop Goes to War and The Spitfire Grill, and he knew the two-handed production would suit an intimate venue like Deep Cove Shaw Theatre.
Written and directed by husband-wife duo Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, Holmes & Watson was originally commissioned by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 2009.
Beecham and Hillgartner had no shortage of inspiring source material. They devoured the original literature and watched a sampling of the many film adaptations. They grew particularly fond of the British TV series starring Jeremy Brett that premiered in the 1980s, but also became fans of the modern TV interpretations including BBC's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary.
Beecham says she is excited to be working with real-life friends on a show that has been referred to in the past as a "bromance" or "buddy play."
"That really paid off. The two of them get in there and just inhabit the parts," says Beecham. "They're really comfortable with each other."
When it came to music, Hillgartner drew inspiration from late19th-century music hall and parlour songs. The score relies heavily on piano and violin, because Holmes is a violinist.
"The music hall stuff is fairly wacky and raucous, there's some beautiful ballads, there's also more dramatic pieces," Hillgartner says.
While Holmes & Watson is billed as a family-friendly musical comedy, Hillgartner says the show goes beyond silly laughs and clever deductions.
"We see all of Sherlock's brilliant ratiocination at work, but more central to, and I think what supports the show, is the interplay between Holmes and Watson and the depth of their enduring friendship over time," he says.