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 May 27, 2016
There is something about live theater that provides room for the little things in life, things that don't come with trumpets but with little bells, things that don't move mountains but may move the soul.
Published May 26, 2016
Charlie Sykes has long been a star of conservative politics, having built a kind of cottage industry mixing radio, television, books and his own peculiar brand of journalism. He may now be part of "The Mainstream Media."
Published May 26, 2016
A kind of social media pandemonium got underway Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was resigning as the artistic director at Skylight Music Theatre. The board will take its time, however, finding a replacement.
Published May 25, 2016
No matter how it gets spun, Milwaukee's performing arts community took a severe hit Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was leaving his post as artistic director of the Skylight Music Theatre.
Published May 24, 2016
The Wisconsin theater season generally begins in early summer when The American Players Theatre opens in Spring Green, shortly after the previous Milwaukee season comes to an end in spring. The 2015-16 season is now over and it's time for Dave Begel's annual list of the best plays of the season.
Published May 21, 2016
Skylight's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" delivered a rollicking and laugh-filled first act. As for the second act? Unfortunately, that's where the Skylight's season finale ran out of gas.
Published May 20, 2016
There are rare moments in the life of an arts organization when something happens that is a stamp of its style and the core belief that makes it who it is. The Milwaukee Ballet unfurled a moment just like that Thursday night with "Alice (in wonderland)."
Published May 19, 2016
Demond Means, a skilled and accomplished educator, is a guy who deserves some sympathy for being caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to move the rock. He faces tough opponents in reform efforts.
Published May 18, 2016
Somebody somewhere needs to sit me down in a corner and explain why the City of Milwaukee needs a new "People's flag" to replace the one we've had for over 60 years.
Published May 17, 2016
Septime Webre is about to step down after 17 years as artistic director of the prestigious Washington Ballet. Before then, however, he is in Milwaukee to direct his "Alice (in wonderland)" with the Milwaukee Ballet.