NEWPORT BEACH — "Sherlock Holmes" is a creaky old melodrama that cries out for the swashbuckling heroics of a matinee idol like William Gillette, for whom it was created at the turn of the last century. Its current incarnation at the Newport Theatre Arts Center is a hollow parody with neither a romantic heartbeat nor a genuine comic sensibility.
Director John Alexander Lee force-feeds the geriatric script with bits of stagy humor and some broad looks, but the body of the work still lies dead on the table. Musical interludes that obviously are intended to be lively fall flat, and the voice-over of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle drones through the scene changes like so many commercial breaks.
Lee takes every opportunity to recapitulate the plot, which admittedly is serpentine, but to no avail. The logic of the proceedings ultimately is obliterated by the full-speed-ahead, clip-those-consonants style of the performance, in which all moments are played at one unyielding speed and volume.
A few of the performers manage to shine through the veneer. As the damsel-in-distress, Debbie Grattan has a rich voice, a graceful bearing and enough feeling for a proper heroine. The villainous Moriarty, played by Bruce T. Campbell, musters an effectively lower-key delivery that oozes with disdain. Lisa Marie Chiu is sweet-faced and unaffected as Terese, and Norm Eneim gives his Billy some gusto.
Joe Kawaja has some delightful moments as the ever-ready and resourceful assistant to Holmes, John Forman. Kawaja has created a character who is enjoying himself--and that enjoyment is the element most missing from the performance of Ken Meyers as Sherlock Holmes. Meyers' Holmes is a heartless patrician who plays at everything and seems bored by it all.
The beautiful sets with their period feel by Gil Morales and stylish costumes by Lia M. Hansen are wasted on this unreconstructed fossil of a play.
A production of the melodrama by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette. Directed by John Alexander Lee, with Gordon Marhoefer, Andrea Visca, Christi J. Sweeney, Joe Kawaja, David Walloch, Lisa Marie Chiu, Tony Grande, Debbie Grattan, Ken Meyers, Bruce T. Campbell, Fred Ingels, Norm Eneim, Sean Faulkner, Terry Vila and Francisco Mandiola. Sets designed by Gil Morales, Spectrum Design. Lighting designed by Chris Kortum. Costumes designed by Lia M. Hansen. Continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 16 at the Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. Tickets: $11. Information: (714) 631-0288.