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'Holmes' is joyfully afoot at PTC

Richard Watson and Mark Shanahan in Pioneer's "Sherlock Holmes and the West End Horror."
Richard Watson and Mark Shanahan in Pioneer's "Sherlock Holmes and the West End Horror."
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE WEST END HORROR, Pioneer Theatre Company, University of Utah, through Nov. 5 (581-6961). Running time: two hours, 20 minutes (one intermission).

"There's nothing new under the sun; it has all been done before," the self-described "world's foremost consulting detective" (that would be Sherlock Holmes) exclaims to his comrade, Dr. John Watson, shortly before jumping into a hectic murder case in 1865.

But here's an all new twist.

Co-authors (and husband and wife) Anthony and Marcia Milgrom Dodge have cleverly adapted Nicholas Meyer's novel "The West End Horror" into a thoroughly delightful stage production, filled with intrigue — and dozens of fascinating characters, all played by a cast of only seven.

Guest-directed by Marcia Dodge herself, the cast seems to be having a jovial time with one delicious bit of dialogue after another, all linked to familiar celebrities.

Sherlock Holmes is played by New Yorker Richard B. Watson (one of three in this cast who have performed in an East Coast versions of the show), with local actor Max Robinson right on his heels as Dr. Watson.

Together they set out to solve the murder of a London theater critic — discovering that many of the city's most celebrated residents are suspects. They include fledgling journalist George Bernard Shaw (Kurt Zischke), one of the deceased's colleagues at The Saturday Review.

As the adventure moves smartly along, there are hints of his inspiration for "Pygmalion" (along with the onstage irony that Zischke played Henry Higgins a couple of years ago in the Utah Shakespearean Festival's production of "My Fair Lady").

Others swirling through the ongoing investigation are Richard D'Oyly Carte (Kevin Doyle), operetta legends Gilbert & Sullivan, actress Jessie Rutland (Jennifer Waldman), the flamboyant Oscar Wilde (Mark Shanahan) and even Bram Stoker and H.G. Welles.

Doyle — in a hand-me-down frock that looks for all the world as if it came from Lady Bracknell's closet (worn by Max Robinson last season) — also surfaces as Ellen Terry.

Craig Wroe as G. Lestrade — and others — rounds out the remarkable cast.

Details of the investigation fly by almost as fast as the costume changes.

Kudos to onstage pianist Steven Barlow, who lends a music-hall touch to the action, along with Carol Wells-Day's stunning costumes, and Troy Hourie's masterful set, a montage of larger-than-life pen-and-ink lithographs straight out of the Strand tabloid, and other penny-dreadfuls.

But there's nothing dreadful about "The West End Horror."

Sensitivity rating: mild Victorian vulgarities, implied violence, hints of a secret love affair. It's somewhere in the PG neighborhood.