“The Hound of the Baskervilles” – the novel – is a literary classic. You know the drill: Demon hound from hell torments town. Cloaked and capped detective steps in. Clever clues, boatloads of red herrings, and plenty of plot twists. Calm returns to the people. It’s elementary, my dear Watson.
So imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot amped up by 40 fleeting characters played for five immensely talented actors with dozens of costume changes, and major doses of hilarity. Welcome to Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville,” a MusicalFare Production soon to be onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre. This follows other MusicalFare Productions, including ‘Avenue Q,’ ‘Spring Awakening,’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ that were runaway hits on this venerable downtown stage.
This isn’t your high school lit class required reading anymore. Nor is it the classic 1939 film starring the inimitable Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes or the acclaimed 1959 remake. This take on Holmes and company is uniquely funny, but remains amazingly true to the story. Stalwart Sherlock (portrayed by comic actor Todd Benzin) is always the star, backed up by dear old chap Dr. Watson (Chris J. Handley), but it’s the rest of the cast – Marc Sacco, Maria Droz, and Patrick Cameron – that playwright Ludwig takes to new levels.
Playing more than one character in a show is old hat for actors like Sacco. But in “Baskerville,” his quick changes and about faces give him 14 distinct roles. “The most I’ve played is maybe seven or eight,” he says. “The script is written to be hectic, it’s part of the design.”
Hectic is an understatement. The show is paced to be frenetic and that’s part of the fun for the cast and the audience. Using relatively few actors to portray an endless number of characters is a showcase for versatility and built-in humor. Sacco says, “Certain characters may only have a page or two to make a change.” That’s not a lot of time for the actors and the audience to keep up. “There’s one scene where I play a middle aged woman, with a feminine pitch in my voice and an affectation. In a few lines I re-enter as a child. Sometimes the voice is still there. There are moments built into the show where we nod at that fact and let the audience ‘in’ on this.”
And that’s what makes “Baskerville” so fun. We’re all in part of this.
Sacco’s “Baskerville” characters share one thing in common: “My job as one of the three ensemble members is to get in the way of Sherlock Holmes,” Sacco says.
Running interference isn’t easy. Sacco approached this role with some trepidation. “You walk into a project like with excited nervousness. The process has gone quickly, but we’re having a good time with this. Things happen in rehearsal that made their way into the show. That’s what’s fun about this piece. Your job is to be crazily playful.”
MusicalFare’s Randy Kramer and Doug Weyand are sharing the director duties for this piece that is already off to a strong start. Pre-sale tickets are sufficiently brisk: two more performances were already added (May 18 and 19).
Be sharp like Sherlock watching the show: Sacco says some transformations happen before your eyes, and you won’t want to miss a moment.
Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville” runs May 10-19 at Shea’s 710 Theatre, and is produced by MusicalFare. For more information, click here.
Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo