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 May 4, 2017
There are many people in Milwaukee who lead very public lives. One of them, surely, is David Stearns, the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We sat down with him to see what makes him tick.
Published May 2, 2017
With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating. A coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, with the mayor and members of the Common Council on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.
Published April 30, 2017
Let us all agree about what Junie B. Jones is not. She is not a crook. She is not a nutball. She is not in love with Handsome Warren. What she is, though, is the center of a wonderfully funny story, "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook."
Published April 29, 2017
Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous, but on rare occasion it can make me feel like a dummy. And that's what I felt like after seeing "Jane Eyre," the final show of the season at The Rep, which opened Friday night.
Published April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.