Nancy Drew has a date, but she and her two friends are faced with finding a solution to a mystery. 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 you’ve come to expect from First Stage. 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. The children (this night in the Benson Cast) were all well-schooled by the First Stage Theater Academy, and they delivered sparkling performances.
Amanda Desimowich, who starred as Nancy Drew, was smooth and captured the fearless intelligence and undying devotion to sleuthing.
The staging was everything you’d expect from First Stage, which has developed a nice relationship with koken-style puppetry, originally developed in Japanese theater. 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 – Inspector Clouseau, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Miss Marple, the Hardy Boys and even Nancy Drew – there are a couple of hallmarks shared by them all. There is an emotional connection to each of them, and from the earliest moments, you know what the deal is. 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. But there wasn’t much showing us.
Nancy had a curious – although admittedly often funny – 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. 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 by 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 didn’t care which. I loved their sleuthing, but I really loved them. They were honorable, they were smart and they were always unwavering in their detecting.
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 wasn’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 Nov. 22, 2014
A 70-year old play about an imaginary six-foot rabbit delivers laughs, but it also is a lesson about how important friendship really is and how loyalty must withstand every single challenge. There is nothing quite like the friendship between Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend, Harvey the Pooka.
Published Nov. 20, 2014
Scott Walker has until Feb. 19 to decide whether to approve a casino in Kenosha. But that facility would clearly have an impact on Milwaukee's Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, and that would certainly be an added hardship for hundreds of charities in the city.
Published Nov. 18, 2014
In the 121st meeting between the two programs, fireworks are the rule, rather than the exception between the Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette Golden Eagles.
Published Nov. 16, 2014
"Frankenstein" has all of the intensity and drama you'd expect from the creation of a monster, but the pace is relentless and that can wear you out. It would have been helpful to have a little bit of room to breathe and sit back in your seat.
Published Nov. 15, 2014
A. J. Gurney's play is supposed to poke fun at the rich, big business and big religion, but it falls apart in an avalanche of trite liberal talking points. Next Act deserves and normally delivers much better.
Published Nov. 14, 2014
When winter hits local television news stations go nuts with the kind of advice we've heard over and over again. Who doesn't know that you ought to slow down if the roads are covered with snow and ice?
Published Nov. 14, 2014
"The Lion King" has sold out on Broadway for almost 15 years, and they've brought that caliber show to the Milwaukee Theatre. It's a spectacular pageant that's wonderful for the entire family.
Published Nov. 13, 2014
The shooting of Laylah Petersen is just one more cry for Milwaukee to stand up and face the problems that are part of the root causes of this kind of violence.
Published Nov. 11, 2014
We are rapidly approaching the season of glad tidings and if you are a sports fan in Wisconsin it is just possible that all of our holiday season wishes may be on the verge of coming true. Talk about good news for sports fans in this area. We have a Thanksgiving bounty that threatens to overflow our basket.
Published Nov. 10, 2014
When you set out to tell the story of a man, there are at least two ways to go about it. One is to focus on something sensational, some single aspect of the man's life and build your story around it. This approach is exploitive and rarely captures the story you hope to tell. The other way to to do it honestly, upfront with everything. That's the kind of honesty that fuels the remounting of "Liberace!" which opened over the weekend at the Milwaukee Rep.