LAYTON — Salty Dinner Theater’s most recent production and first-ever mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the “Violinist’s Beau,” is a Sherlock Holmes mystery investigating a murder committed early in the show. The plot is pretty much that—there’s a murder, and Holmes is investigating. All the action takes place in the present—with the fourth wall being non-existent and the setting actually being Mimi’s Restaurant.
As is customary in dinner theater, the show “starts” with the actors mingling in character with guests as they arrive and are seated, and in this case, I enjoyed the exchanges overall. Of particular note for his ability to break the ice with both witty conversation and entertaining card tricks was Chris Kucera as Hagman. Throughout the evening, in fact, Kucera’s Hagman was the most reliably funny and consistent of characters, as his Texan accent stayed true and his performing was lively without ever being annoyingly so.
As the scripted play portion of the night started, my expectations were somewhat let down. The pacing of the first act in general was slow, with jokes that might have been funny becoming stale simply because punch lines and comebacks were not delivered quickly enough. For example, in an exchange between Sherlock Holmes (played by Mike Brown) and Watson (played by Ryon Sharrette), Watson is making a stab at Holmes’ overuse of the word “elementary”—but Watson’s jab and Holmes’ resulting replies are too slow coming to render them funny.
Also, in the beginning of the first act in particular, the show was pretty confusing. The microphones worked beautifully throughout the night (thanks to sound technician Lukas Orton, in association with SS Video Productions), yet lines were hard to follow and actors even harder to find in the cramped spacing of Mimi’s Restaurant. The script itself (written by Beth Bruner) went for easy laughs with very quick setup of scene, so the blame of the pacing and the general awkwardness of the first act goes mainly to the lines themselves and not to the actors.
Happily, after the first “break” in the play, the pacing picked up, the jokes became tighter, and director Beth Bruner’s blocking suddenly seemed easier to follow, with the characters staying more rooted rather than wandering around. Also, the storyline (though admittedly shallow overall) picked up and became more interesting as Sherlock Holmes began interrogating possible murderers.
Mike Brown’s Sherlock Holmes had a fun, twinkle-in-his-eye, deadpan quality to him becoming of the character of Holmes. Brown spoke clearly and with a believable accent, and he played up the (over)confidence of Holmes well. Brown was particularly delightful in the end, reveal scene of the play as he continues to use and reinvent the word, “suspicious.”
Other notable performers included Tanner Haderlie as Sasha, a Russian-born cook (possibly butcher?) who is a cousin to the murder victim. Haderlie’s Sasha was a refreshing mix of innocence and temper, a fact which is played up by the comparison drawn between him and a trained dog who will innocently respond to treats and commands to distract him from bad behavior. Also fun was the “MC” of the night, the obsessed Sherlock Fan played by Mary Zullo Brassard. Brassard certainly knows how to work a crowd, and her geeky, stalker-fan character—who even dressed just like Sherlock—was lovable and fun to watch and interact with.
But Chris Kucera as Hagman was my favorite performer of the night. His charismatic charm, wit, and depth of emotion (well, as much as this setting and material will allow) made him fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed the staging of a scene in which Hagman narrates his own story, using a magician’s long handkerchief braided with pictures to help out. The prop of the illustrated handkerchiefs was hilarious, and the Hagman’s animated and perfectly timed telling of his back-story made the exchange all that much more enjoyable.
The best part of the performances of the night was the energy and commitment to the characters shown by every single actor in the show. Yes, the script is corny. Yes, some jokes fell flat. But the show came off as overall funny and enjoyable because the actors kept on going and giving their all—and the energy they exuded was contagious.
Technically, the sound was superb, as mentioned earlier. The costumes worked—particularly Sherlock Holmes’ characteristic getup—tan trench-coat, complete with the signature hat and pipe. And generally the blocking of the show worked with what the space offered—cramped aisles in-between an array of full booths and tables—far from a typical, roomy stage.
Salty Dinner Theater’s Sherlock Holmes was a fun show, with the momentum of the script and the performances only getting better as the night wore on. If you enjoy the cheese and smarm that goes hand-in-hand with dinner theater and you want a night of fun escapism, I recommend this show as one worth checking out.