When Scottish author/physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the characters of detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson in the 1800s, Doyle likely had no clue their stories would continue to entertain for centuries.
In 1901 Doyle wrote “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a mystery investigated by Holmes and Watson, which serves as the basis for a new play by Ken Ludwig “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” on stage at The Old Globe through Sept 8.
Ludwig has said his aim was to stretch the genres of comedy and mystery by taking a story that plays out on a large scale.
Josh Rhodes directs. He was the choreographer for Globe’s “Bright Star” and “Working,” and it was Globe’s artistic director Barry Edelstein who approached him about “Baskerville.”
“Barry called me because he thought Ken’s new play needed a visual eye and a director who would keep pace with the characters,” Rhodes explained. “And considering what I did with ‘Bright Star,’ I was the guy. I found Ken’s past plays —‘Lend Me a Tenor’ and ‘Crazy For You,’ amazing. He structured all the characters in perfect comedic peril. I love his work. I’m thrilled to work on his new piece.”
Although “Baskerville” is not a musical that needs choreography, it has elements that require maneuvering. “It’s a fast mystery-adventure with five people playing 47 characters that quickly move around and change the environment and rhythm,” Rhodes said. “Creating a physical style to the scenes and the transitions that also matches the tone of the play is an important part of directing ‘Baskerville.’ ”
In casting Sherlock Holmes, Rhodes said he sought someone exceedingly intelligent, but also a charmer, who had enough humor so everyone would want to be around him.
“Holmes is a super smart man who lives in his brain,” Rhodes said. “He’s a mad scientist and genius, but socially an awkward person. He has to make you believe that people in his home, and Watson, enjoy being around him.
“A lot of wonderful people auditioned, but Euan Morton blew me away. He’s passionate, very intelligent and makes sense of Holmes’ path. With Euan you understand what’s going on in Holmes’ mind. Euan wants the audience to come with him, and to me that was the absolute key to getting a Holmes for the stage.”
Rhodes hopes audiences will enjoy the production’s fast pace and mix of wit and humor.
“I love when we meet all the characters in a hotel lobby and Holmes and Watson finally start to get to the bottom of the mystery,” he said.
“All the actors quickly change clothes; three of them change characters twice. That’s when the madness really begins, and I love that scene because that’s when the tone of the show takes off and allows the audience to understand they are in for a fun ride.
“It’s always thrilling when you see actors work in a different way. They sweat a little as they transform in front of me and when they go off stage and are frantically changing costumes, accents, mustaches and wigs and come back on stage as different characters. As they go off, we wonder who they’re going to be next.
“People are drawn to Sherlock Holmes mysteries because they have the same formula that makes the super heroes everyone loves resilient in our culture,” Rhodes said. “Holmes looks at this imperfect world with all its pain, mystery and murder, and actually makes sense of it. His senses are so keen it doesn’t take a crazy car chase or a bunch of guns to make him a hero. It’s actually his brain. I know I get excited to see him get the pipe, coat, hat and magnifying glass and just go.”