Listening to However Improbable, usually a Sherlock Holmes read-through podcast, doing an episode about the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, they hit a fact on the outset that I did not know: Billy Wilder originally envisioned The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a musical. One of the hosts exclaimed how much she would love there to be a Sherlock Holmes musical, especially this movie as a musical, and I went, "Oh, yeah, there was that one musical . . ."
And now, I'm not talking about the one fabulous musical segment of Holmes and Watson, nor any of the bits in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother. No, I'm talking about that full-on Sherlock Holmes Broadway musical Baker Street. Remember Baker Street? No?
Most of us forget about Baker Street at some point, if we ever knew of it. I have two different vinyl albums of its songs, and I constantly forget about it.
It was called “the hottest Broadway musical of 1965 on its original cast album,” getting rave reviews from the critics according to that same album. Although it seems to have largely disappeared from the theater scene these fifty-five years later, in 1965, Baker Street was supposedly setting box office attendance records, but the fact that it closed after 311 performances before the year was out, however, makes it seem like the initial attendance dropped off after pretty quickly.
The play is the usual mish-mash of Sherlockian elements: Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and the Baker Street Irregulars all get stage time. It starred Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Wallace & Gromit's Peter Sallis as Dr. Watson, Inga Swenson as Irene Adler, and had the first Broadway parts for both Christopher Walken and Tommy Tune.
As I pointed our in a past Watsonian Weekly, Watson is disrespected immediately at the start of the play, where the client immediately refers to him as “Dr. Watkins or something of the sort.” It also plays with Watson’s wound giving him a live “Oh yes, I picked up a Jezail bullet in my . . .” at which point Holmes cuts him off before we find out where.
The play does have Canonical details aplenty to delight the Sherlockian, but it also has chorus lines of dancing girls playing native Americans, which might not go over quite so well today.
Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Dr. Watson all get their own songs, Watson ironically singing that all he wanted in life was to be a married man. Sherlock Holmes is getting distracted by his growing crush on Irene Adler, so the hetero-norm of Baker Street is far different from what Billy Wilder would have toyed with in his Private Life musical. (Though in the movie, as is, Holmes can still seem pretty straight, though the "However Improbable" podcasters definitely have a different opinion.)
Irene Adler seems more often Holmes’s partner in Baker Street than Watson is, and [SPOILING IT!] at the very end of the play, Sherlock Holmes leaves Watson to supposedly go look for Moriarty in America, something the Will Ferrell Holmes and Watson also seems to have paid tribute to Baker Street with, except in this case, Holmes is going alone, intimating that he’s going to hook up with Irene.
It's not a badly written play, but the staging is very ambitious, requiring a little more than a local repertory company probably would want to do. And, personally, I don't think the songs hold up at all, which doesn't give anyone the motivation to put it on in 2021.
Baker Street made its splash in 1965 and then faded into Broadway history records. I haven't met any Sherlockians who are fans of the thing, and anyone who saw it live must be pretty old at this point and aren't talking it up. I hope we get another, one day, that we can talk up as the years move on.
Baker Street, however, didn't seem to be it.