The power of science, logical deduction, and friendship drive this musical adaptation of the popular book series.
Could Singapore be a hotbed of mysteries? For children’s book writers A.J. Low (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez) behind the beloved Sherlock Sam series, there’s always a mystery at every corner of the island, from Katong to even Pulau Ubin, ready for spunky kid detective Sherlock Sam and his friends to solve.
In celebrating Sherlock Sam’s 10th anniversary, local theatre company Dream Academy has decided to give it one of the most special gifts of all – a musical stage adaptation. Directed by Selena Tan, with an original script by Jo Tan and music by Elaine Chan, Sherlock Sam – The Musical is a new musical that the whole family can enjoy. Based on the second book in the series Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning, the musical sees Sherlock (Andrew Marko), his sister Wendy (Kimberly Chan) and their friends Nazhar (Fadhil Daud), Jimmy (Benedict Hew) and Eliza (Gabby Rae) get to the bottom of supposed supernatural occurrences they discover on a field trip.
Sherlock Sam – The Musical is a show that feels like watching a Saturday morning television show onstage. The story is sound, if basic, and the stock characters are caricatures that kids can easily latch on to and understand within moments of their introduction. Sherlock Sam, for example, is characterised as a super smart primary school kid, whose food-loving tendencies become the butt of jokes. Meanwhile, Sherlock is even joined by his trusty companion Watson (a boxy puppet controlled by Mitch Leow), who is amusing enough for some of the kids, and keeps them guessing with his antics.
As the friends go about their investigation and search for clues, Sherlock Sam – The Musical also holds plenty of important lessons for kids, not unlike a school assembly programme. Mean girl Eliza, for instance, is revealed to be a lonely soul who doesn’t know how to make friends, and her storyline teaches kids not to judge a book by its cover. Elsewhere, Sherlock’s war cry of ‘for science!’, helps kids realise that there is almost always a logical explanation for phenomenon, sparking curiosity and wonder.
As for the adult cast, Alaric Tay, Amy Cheng, and R Chandran, they do their best with their limited characters. Alaric and Amy play Sherlock and Wendy’s parents, with sound characterisation as parents ever-present to support their children in all their efforts. Meanwhile, Chandran plays police Officer Siva, and produces a strong attempt to perform some audience interaction and act as comic relief while scene changes take place.
When it comes to the way it is written however, Sherlock Sam – The Musical falls short, unable to take full advantage of the opportunity to make the story bigger and more of a spectacle for the stage. At its heart, friendship is the key, but Sherlock Sam’s friends are primarily written to be there as stock characters for easy jokes, rather than driving home any particularly strong point about bonds and being there for each other. Through and through, it really does embrace its status as a show just for kids, oversimplifying what is brought to the stage rather than giving little nods and references for grown ups to enjoy as well, unable to create a twinge of relatability for the overly perfect/bumbling adult characters.
In addition, while the foundation for the story is sound and true to the original series, where Sherlock Sam – The Musical falters is in the actual execution of the musical itself. We are expected to suspend our disbelief see these full-grown adults as children, but oftentimes, there is simply not enough energy from the cast to keep up that illusion, with some cast members out of breath or unable to handle the pacing of each number. To add on, the numbers themselves aren’t particularly memorable or catchy in both choreography and melody, each one fading from memory the moment they end. There are no peaks and valleys in this show, which seems to mostly want to reach the end as soon as it can.
In a similar vein, Bernice Ong’s set reads as overly simple, and requires some imagination to see a full-blown music room, or Fort Canning from a few plants arranged around a wooden wall. Even the projections on the screen do not contribute enough to the atmosphere, and as a whole, Sherlock Sam might impress younger audience members, but is lacking in enough oomph and show stopping moments that elevate it to the level of a mass market stage musical.
Putting their best foot forward and biggest smiles on, Sherlock Sam – The Musical does its best to adapt the popular children’s book series. During curtain call, director Selena Tan talked about how her inspiration for putting on the show was due to her younger relatives proclaiming their love for the series, and one must admire at least the sheer amount of passion and effort that went into turning that love into a full blown production for the kids to enjoy. Even if it doesn’t quite succeed within its genre, Sherlock Sam – The Musical has enough going for it that kids who do end up watching it should take an interest in the series, and hopefully learn to lean into this world, and pick up a love for mysteries and reading.
Photo Credit: Dream Academy
Sherlock Sam – The Musical plays from 11th to 20th May 2023 at Capitol Theatre. Tickets available from BookMyShow
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