This month, we chat with Walter Stearns from Mercury Theater Chicago in Chicago, IL about their upcoming premiere of the new musical The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, written by John Reeger, Julie Shannon and Festival Alumnus Michael Mahler (How Can You Run…, Fest ’09).
Based mostly on historic fact, with a little fantasy thrown in, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes begins with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle deciding to kill off his most famous character. When it is revealed that the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes has been killed off, everyone from Churchill to the Queen of England is up in arms. Doyle decides he needs to get out of town and travels to the countryside, but he cannot escape. Sherlock comes to him and haunts him. Next thing you know, the writer and his creation are off solving crimes together.
How did the show find its way to Mercury Theater Chicago? 
For the past five seasons, we have had the pleasure of producing the beloved holiday tradition, The Christmas Schooner.  The writers ofSchooner came to us with other works which have been in development.  This Sherlock Holmes piece has been in development for over 20 years.
In 2012, we lost the very talented lyricist/composer, Julie Shannon to cancer.  Her writing partner and husband were very passionate about getting this show into production and they created a special reading just for me.  I was profoundly moved by the piece and we started a dialogue about the continued development.
What excited you about this show? 
Talent.  These are great creators working at the top of their game.  The music is catchy, lyrics are smart and the book is filled with humor and heart.
You have an expectation of what a Sherlock Holmes piece might be like, but I was completely surprised at how emotional this story became.  It explores great social issues (the false imprisonment of dark skinned people) as well as the crippling sadness when you lose someone you love.  There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
What is Mercury Theater Chicago’s history with developing and presenting new work? 
This is a first for us at the Mercury Theater Chicago.  It is a big risk, but we are banking on the talents of these writers and the draw of Sherlock Holmes.
What sort of development have you done on this show to prepare for its world premiere? 
It has received so many readings over the 20 years of development.  There are roles written for certain Chicago actors who are now a little too mature for the work.  At Mercury Theater Chicago we assembled a dream cast and set them up for two developmental workshops spread out over one year.
Why is the show a good match for your theatre and audience? 
It is a chamber musical for smart people.  It will feel very intimate and scaled just right for our theater.  Our audience is accustomed to listening for smart lyrics and a sentimental story.
Why should people come by the Windy City this winter to solve the case? 
This is some of the very best talent Chicago has to offer.  The writing team is beloved, and we are giving them their best chance to succeed.  We assembled a top-notch cast under the direction of one of our great local treasures, Rachel Rockwell.  If you have ever wondered, what is the big deal about theater in Chicago, look no further than The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, at Mercury Theater Chicago.
Visit Mercury Theater Chicago’s website for more information about their upcoming production of The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes.

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