Nancy Drew has a date, but she and her two friends are faced with finding a solution to a mystery.Â What will she do? She turns to the audience and explains.
"True friends always postpone dates to go snooping."
Snooping and friends are at the heart of "Nancy Drew and Her Biggest Case Ever," the First Stage world premiere that runs at the Marcus Center through June 1.
The play is an original work, a collaboration between friends and colleagues Jeff Frank and John Maclay. Frank is the artistic director at First Stage; Maclay is the associate artistic director.
The production, imaginatively directed by Frank, is the kind of show youâ€™ve come to expect from First Stage.Â The set design by Martin McClendon, costumes by Kimberly Callaghan and lighting by Noele Stollmack are all top rate.
The acting by the adults is the epitome of professional. Joe Foust, a Chicago actor who has an impressive number of Milwaukee credits, is especially spectacular as the evil meanie Stumpy Dowd.Â The children (this night in the Benson Cast) were all well-schooled by the First Stage Theater Academy, and they delivered sparkling performances.Â
Amanda Desimowich, who starred as Nancy Drew, was smooth and captured the fearless intelligence and undying devotion to sleuthing.
The staging was everything youâ€™d expect from First Stage, which has developed a nice relationship with koken-style puppetry, originally developed in Japanese theater.Â The koken are actors who wear neutral colors and help create moments using props to provide an element of the performance. In this production, these actors are a car, a canoe, a ship, a roiling sea and a thunderstorm.
But even with all the wondrous elements of a typical First Stage production, there was something missing from this effort.
With all kinds of fictional detectives â€“ Inspector Clouseau, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Miss Marple, the Hardy Boys and even Nancy Drew â€“ there are a couple of hallmarks shared by them all.Â There is an emotional connection to each of them, and from the earliest moments, you know what the deal is.Â That seemed to be missing in this production, and one may have been a problem caused by the other.
First of all, it seemed to take quite a long time before we got to figure out just what kind of mystery Nancy was going to solve. We were introduced to a ship that had sunk, a pair of sisters who were being forced to live with a mean uncle, a cottage on an estate that seemed to have unearthly spirits around, the possibility of a hidden treasure and a treasure map of unknown location.
There almost seemed to be too much effort in trying to establish Nancy as the smart, assertive, determined, capable and committed girl she was. There was a lot of telling us about how great she was.Â But there wasnâ€™t much showing us.
Nancy had a curious â€“ although admittedly often funny â€“ habit of turning to the audience to make proclamations about the nature of detecting. Those little mini-speeches seemed to break up the rhythm of the proceedings.
All of this may well have been the reason that it seemed hard to be engaged with Nancy and her search.
At some point, it felt like it would have been nice to make it pretty clear right at the start what the mystery was that faced Nancy.Â If we knew what it was she was searching from the beginning, it would have made it easier for us to root for her and become enthralled with her charm and her abilities.
Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were created byÂ Edward Stratemeyer, who packaged the books and hired freelance writers to write them, with the same characters and different adventures.
I think I read every single Hardy Boys mystery when I was young, and I remember wanting to be like either Frank or Joe, I didnâ€™t care which.Â I loved their sleuthing, but I really loved them. They were honorable, they were smart and they were always unwavering in their detecting.Â
The First Stage production seemed to need a good dose of humanity for Nancy. We needed to see Nancy in action, which we did, but we also needed to feel what Nancy felt and that wasnâ€™t there.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Aug. 30, 2016
Julie Tarney has just published a book, "My Son Wears Heels: One Mom's Journey from Clueless to Kickass," one that the New York Times Book Review called an "exceptional job of tracing the zigzagging line of Harry's self-identity."
Published Aug. 25, 2016
The ability to talk about race is behind the plan for OnMilwaukee's ongoing series of Milwaukee Talks: honest and frank discussions, unedited and focused on the issues of equality and justice. It's also the time for big dreams for the city.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
The Milwaukee theater season is underway and I've been looking through the schedule. I've found 24 productions I'm really anticipating. There are going to be others, and surprises, but my 24 are the productions I can't wait to see and experience.
Published Aug. 18, 2016
As Milwaukee struggles with the issue of how to deal with racial violence, it's critical to find answers to two key questions. The first question is how did Milwaukee become so racist. The second is how do we fix a culture that loves violence.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
Simon Mustaffa is 18 and lives in the Central City. He's off to UWM with a full scholarship and he has strong views about the violence in Sherman Park. For him, it's not a surprise at all; this explosion was a long time coming.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
All In Productions has a history that can be measured in months, but it has already staged some wonderful plays. It has produced five so far, and the next one is directed by artistic director Robby McGhee, who knows where this company wants to go.
Published Aug. 13, 2016
Under the feathery touch of director Marcella Kearns, Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" takes isolation, desolation and disappointment and stands them on their ear, filling the Cabot Theatre with chuckles, laughters and outright roars of fun
Published Aug. 12, 2016
A sweltering hot August night was the perfect atmosphere for the opening night of "No Exit," Jean Paul Sartre's trip through his particular and peculiar vision of hell. The Dale Gutzman-directed production is a searing journey through the existential mind.
Published Aug. 11, 2016
Election day has come and gone and some of the results in the primary contests are satisfying, but also quite a bit troubling. Leading the satisfaction category is the reelection of District Attorney John Chisholm over Verona Swanigan, 65% to 35%.
Published Aug. 9, 2016
If you are young(ish), headed out on a warm Saturday night and want to go drinking Downtown, you have your choice of four distinctly different areas and crowds to join. As an Uber driver, I spend lots of time in all four places.