New Sherlock Holmes musical blows into Arizona Rose Theatre

By Bridgette Redman

Arthur Conan Doyle’s works can be adapted to any medium.

Stories of Sherlock Holmes are ubiquitous—they show up in novels, picture books, advertisements, television, plays and movies.

This month, the popular sleuth can be found on Arizona Rose Theatre’s stage filing out its season of wit and whimsey in “Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind Musical.”

Director Luke Howell and his wife co-wrote the musical, which premiered in 2016 at the Arizona Rose Theatre, while his brother and sister penned the music. Now they’ve restructured the music, reworked some lines and changed the scene work to remount what Howell calls a light drama that audiences have been asking about since it debuted.

Howell reprises his role as Watson, who is visiting the Hotel du Louvre in Paris on December 23, 1915, when World War I rages throughout Europe. He’s trying to piece together his life with his second wife after Sherlock Holmes’ death.

But is the great detective really dead? Watson hopes not, after a hotel maid is murdered and he becomes embroiled in international intrigue.

“We wanted to do something different with the character of Sherlock,” Howell says. “Obviously he’s a widely explored character. We thought maybe have him be a little older, a little wiser and pull him into a different period of time.”

The “east wind” of the title is a reference taken from Conan Doyle’s “His Last Bow,” which was published in 1917, but set in 1914. It refers to World War I and appears in a conversation between the great sleuth and his doctor assistant:

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

“I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.”

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us will wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

Howell’s gateway to the Holmes character was through the work of Laurie King, who writes Holmes’ pastiches with the detective and a new character, Mary Russell, his intellectual equal. Howell started with “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” and then read through Doyle’s works.

“Laurie R. King is responsible for my Sherlock Holmes passion,” Howell says.

While you don’t have to be a fan of the books, movies or TV shows to enjoy this musical, Howell says Easter eggs are aplenty in the show.

“We’ve drawn a lot from the mood and tone of the style of the original story,” Howell says. “What’s really nice is this is brand new. It isn’t anything you’ve ever seen or read. It’s an entirely new Sherlock Holmes adventure.”

Howell says the musical is a light drama. In a season of wit and whimsy, this show is designed to be witty as it is filled with intelligent characters.

“Our goal was to keep it enjoyable while still providing a lot of depth,” Howell says. “In our first production, we managed to keep people on their toes. We would get gasps and oohs and aahs that we were hoping for.”

The music of “Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind” isn’t entirely sung but characters break out in song to express the emotions and feelings.

Howell also appreciated the opportunity to explore Watson in greater depth.

“Watson is a reflection of Arthur Conan Doyle,” Howell says “The character of Sherlock was inspired by a doctor. I thought it would be interesting to show someone like Watson who is an intelligent guy and a veteran, how he would take things happening in front of him and implement the powers of observation he learned from Holmes in his own life.”

In addition to the Holmes characters, “Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind” incorporates the historical figure of William Henry Hunt, who was born a slave and was one of a few African Americans to be part of the U.S. diplomatic corps in the 19th century. He was a diplomat to France from 1906 to 1927.

“Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind” also includes references to the Christmas Truce, when German and British soldiers sang carols to each other on Christmas Eve and Day 1914. It was an act of chivalry that would never be repeated.

The musical takes place on a single set, something purposely designed for the intimate stage of Arizona Rose Theatre.

“We manage to fit a whole lot of set into a tiny little area,” Howell says. “The strength of the story, the strength of the music—we really are just trying to build a space where that will shine. The costumes are really beautiful, but it is the story that we’re focusing on.”

Howell hopes Sherlock Holmes fans will be delighted.

“We have done our best to treat the character with respect and give him the dignity he deserves,” Howell says “We’ve also done our best to bring other interesting characters into the universe, characters who will challenge him. I think, in the end, audiences can count on seeing Sherlock Holmes. We’re treating the character with respect and everything they’re hoping to see out of Sherlock Holmes, they’re going to get.”