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Theater review: Underground takes hysterical twist on Sherlock Holmes

“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” (Duluth Playhouse photo)

While staying generally true to the plot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the Underground Theater’s zany production of “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” takes a decidedly Monty Pythonesque turn in playwright Ken Ludwig’s uproarious spoof. The sold-out opening night crowd got on board this roller coaster ride of a comedy and held on for dear life until the final bows.

Playing Sherlock Holmes, the immortal, intuitive sleuth, Jonathan Manchester has a wry delivery and a powerful physicality, making him absolutely believable in his iconic caped coat and deerstalker hat. The ever-reliable Mike Pederson plays Dr. Watson, Holmes’ steadfast friend, with conviction and impeccable diction. He provides the critical narration that keeps the audience anchored in the complex story and its plethora of characters.

So, if we do the math, that leaves Bryan Burns, Amber Burns and David Krick to play all the rest of the 33 improbable characters, including a frenzied butterfly collector, cockney “gofers,” a couple nurses, a doctor and a farmer, with Shakespeare’s Falstaff thrown in for good measure.

Amber Burns dazzles throughout the evening, going from the innocent and sweet Miss Stapleton to a gothic horror show of a villainess, Mrs. Barrymore. Channeling Cloris Leachman’s unforgettable Frau Blucher in “Young Frankenstein,” Burns brought down the house with her ridiculous accents and comic timing.

Mostly playing Charles Baskerville, the gun-toting cowboy hero from Texas, Bryan Burns has some other fun comic turns as a maid and a police inspector. One of his hilarious highlights was appearing onstage as Baskerville and the inspector at the same time.

David Krick tied with Amber Burns for the most characters (13). With each one, Krick made maximum use of his comic skills, unbounded energy and occasional mugging to create a Peter Sellers-style rainbow of preposterous characters.

Daniel Benoit’s brilliant projections for “Baskerville” are a mind-blowing mix of ever-changing images and motions of, among others, ominous clouds, moving trains, a hallway of paintings and the illusion of characters falling off a cliff. Benoit’s projections are truly another star of the show.

Also essential to the creation of this madcap world of mayhem and murder are Patrick Mulcahy’s evocative and moody lighting, Andrew Hienz’s eerie sound design and Dan Uebel’s spot-on period-style props.

Cheryl Skafte’s creative costumes provide a hilarious “fashion show” of styles and wigs, helping the actors create their various characters. The costume changes are insanely fast, with actors leaving the stage as one character and seconds later appearing on the opposite side of the stage as a different character with an entire costume and wig change.

Director Justin Peck keeps all the plates spinning, in this classic mystery run amok with pratfalls, preposterous accents, and over-the-top character portrayals. He and his talented and fearless quintet of actors and his dynamite production team pay homage to everything from one of the many movie, stage and television incarnations of Sherlock Holmes to a lightning quick succession of wacky skits on “Saturday Night Live.”

If You Go

What: “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery”

When: October 4-13 (Thursday-Saturday nights) at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Depot at 506 West Michigan Street

Cost: $20 general admission

Tickets and Information: www.duluthunderground.org or at (218) 733-7555

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