I ended up spending the night last night (Oct. 13th-14th) at a friend’s apartment after we’d gone out for an absolutely fantastic orchestra concert. Just before heading to bed, my friend paused in front of her bookshelf, pondered for a moment, and then reached up to pull a thin volume from an upper shelf. Wearing a big, shit-eating grin, she handed the small book to me and said “Here you go” before quickly retreating into the bathroom to brush her teeth. The cover had the words “Baker Street” written in bold, stylized letters on a black background, hovering over a color photograph of three melodramatic-looking actors in front of a canvassed ‘streets-of-London’ backdrop. It was the script for a musical. That’s right…A musical. Lemme say that one more time: MUSICAL. I flipped the book open to a random page and promptly doubled over laughing. There are things that I can visualize as musicals, and then there are things that I simply cannot. The ‘canon’ is one of those that has mostly fallen into the latter category for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see this potentially working, but only under really specific sets of conditions (the most critical of which being that it needs to not take itself overly seriously). This is one of those things that I feel would either be outrageously funny, or atrociously horrible, with very little in between. You either nail it, or you don’t.
Needless to say, I couldn’t help but read the thing. I was honestly expecting this to be really awful (my friend had actually told me about this earlier in the summer, so my mental image was already pre-set for ridonculous), but I tried to keep an open mind. As it turns out, it really wasn’t as gut-wrenchingly horrific as I thought it would be. In fact, I quite enjoyed it! It wasn’t fantastic, but it didn’t make me want to jump out of a window either. The plot was decent enough, if perhaps a bit bizarre (being sort of a bastardization of Final Problem and Scandal in Bohemia with just a touch of Empty House along with oodles of other references), and I thought that at least some of the song lyrics were rather catchy. The hard part for me came in imagining what this music was supposed to sound like. All I could come up with were snippits of the musical version of Jekyll & Hyde (another thing I thought would make an absurd musical, but was actually really fantastic).
I have to agree with my friend’s comment that the whole thing would be much better, and probably a whole lot funnier, if Holmes were the only character not singing (and dancing). THAT, in my opinion, would be pretty fantastic. I have a really, REALLY hard time imagining anyone managing to convincingly pull Holmes off on stage only to turn around and burst into song and dance. Just about any other character can happily be assigned wide ranges of heartfelt or humorous songs to sing, but I have a hard time seeing it for Holmes. In fact, I think leaving him out of the song and dance might even serve to ‘frame’ his character in a really an interesting way by highlighting the very calculated manner in which he deliberately chooses to distance himself from society and objectively observe. I think it would make for a fascinating juxtaposition of personalities to have Holmes be the one island of cool, pure reason and logic amidst a shifting sea of colorful emotions and responses.
The Baker Street irregulars, on the other hand, are an entirely different story. Maybe it’s the ‘Newsies effect’, but I absolutely loved the image of a bunch of scruffy ragamuffins prancing around and belting out Cockney-colored lyrics for the sake of impressing their ‘employer’. There’s a portion of one scene somewhere in the first act where Holmes cuts their enthusiasm off with a blunt “Are you quite finished?” sort of retort, only to later completely thwart an encore by briskly collecting Watson and walking out of the scene. That actually had me convinced. That’s the sort of thing I was just talking about in the lines above. I really liked that sequence.
Overall, though, I really did have fun reading this. The opening lines of the prologue are strongly reminiscent of Vincent Starrett’s beloved poem (whether by choice or ‘coincidence’, I don’t know), and the remainder of the piece is lovingly littered throughout with all sorts of canon references. Irene Adler is, of course, a main character in the story and there is some romantic tension between her and Holmes, but it’s predominantly one-sided (apart from a couple of ‘teasers’ and a few moments of mental distraction on Holmes’ part), which I’m mostly alright with. I understand the need to ‘tease’ the audience a little with this in order to help keep the story engaging, but would have (personally) gone absolutely apeshit if they’d had Holmes and Adler ‘hitch up’ at the end. Woops…spoilers.
On a somewhat tangential note, I really felt that parts of this piece were very strongly Great Mouse Detective-esque. So much so, in fact, that I almost wonder if this wasn’t a partial source of inspiration. There’s the fact that the story revolves around the Diamond Jubilee, the fact that it involves infiltrating Buckingham Palace during the ceremony and the stealing of royal jewels (a thing referenced relatively early on in GMD), the fact that Holmes and Watson at are at one point tied up in a room containing a complex machine set to kill them (in this case an elaborate clockwork bomb), the fact that Moriarty attempts to escape via a ‘high-tech’ motorized balloon, and so on. These are also all really common plot devices, so I really couldn’t say for sure whether or not there’s any truth to that.
So, to conclude, because it’s late and I need to go to bed: I genuinely found this script to be an entertaining Saturday night/Sunday afternoon read. It wasn’t awful, but neither was there anything in it that really stood out to me. It didn’t really ‘pop,’ as it were. The character voices seemed well-enough thought out (without digressing into lots of nitpicking), and the story was kind of fun if a little “blah” for my tastes (though that might change dramatically if I were to see it performed). I’d have really liked to see a bit more originality in it, but I also enjoyed the canon references. I did also go and look some of the music up. I quite liked some of the songs, but felt a lot of that to be a bit “blah” as well, though I admittedly can’t accurately judge from having read the lyrics and then listened to little snippits. I think this could be really fun on stage if set up really well and adjusted a little. It seems as though it did relatively well for a short while, but then dropped off the map, which I can see from having read it. (Momentarily fun, but lacking a bit in ‘resonance’.) For now, I’m going to give it a center-line three ‘Orange Pips’. I do think it’s pretty awesome that Christopher Walken was in this, though!
Source (book): Coopersmith, Jerome. Baker Street. Garden City (NY): Doubleday & Co., 1966.
What Wikipedia has to say.
More information on Jerome Coopersmith: IMDB
Music Sample: “It’s So Simple” from Act I, Scene I (I actually quite like this one, but sadly it’s the only full-song I was able to find short of buying them all.)