As quickly as the holidays come around, so does another iteration of Charles Dickens's 1843 tale, A Christmas Carol. This season, Mark Shanahan samples Dickens' Christmas classic and blends two of the most famous storybook characters, Scrooge and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to create A Sherlock Carol, a merry yet uneventful production open now off Broadway at New World Stages.
In Shanahan’s story, also under his own direction, the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge morphs into a coy murder mystery. Set in 1894 London, Sherlock Holmes (an amusing Drew McVety) is trying to find his way after the death of his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. Tiny Tim (a delightful Dan Domingues) is all grown up; Fezziwig is still around throwing parties; Scrooge (an exceptional Thom Sesma) has been found dead; and the famous sleuth is tasked with solving the crime. Only, in this story, Mr. Holmes has taken over as the town’s miser and there are no three ghosts to help turn him back on track. This Holmes is course and cranky, and uncharacteristically apprehensive to solving mysteries. It’s only after Tiny Tim, now a doctor and Scrooge’s benefactor, begs Holmes to take on the case, does he hesitantly oblige.
The new holiday play works an exciting and refreshing script to the otherwise overdone classic story but the plot doesn’t quite come together smoothly on stage. At times, the staging becomes erratic and cluttered and can become hard to follow if you are unfamiliar with the many plot references, but fans of both stories may find pleasure in knowing that content doesn’t stray too far from the originals. Both Anissa Felix and Isabel Keating offer exciting energy to the production as they each play multiple characters in perfect distinctness. They bring in different interest with every character swap.
The set designed by Anna Louizos, famous for her Tony Award-nominated designs for In The Heights and High Fidelity, doesn’t offer the traditional holiday fluff associated with your typical A Christmas Carol productions. There are no sparkling lights, falling snow, or over-the-top décor. Instead she serves careful minimalism, only offering a picturesque city backdrop, gas light posts, a Christmas wreath, and a peak into Scrooge's underdone home. What lacks in set design picks up in Linda Cho’s period costume looks. The design features dark colored tailored suits and top hats that mesh well against the fluffy period dressy and bonnets.
The beauty of A Christmas Carol is that it’s become a part of an annual tradition. The holiday season would feel incomplete without a production of the beloved tale. While sometimes overdone, and overconsumed, if the yuletide is not broken, why rewrite it? A Sherlock Carol offers a unique reworking but doesn’t leave its audience feeling the magic of Christmas, the triumph of solving a crime, or the need to see it again. It’s a good attempt at a new story but if I, or this audience absolutely needed it, is still a mystery.