Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Mr. Mallard's Magical Menagerie and The Mystery of the Black Swan

elite Dance & Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Chris Ranney and Steve Corona
Photo by Two Brunos Photography
When I heard that elite Dance & Theatre's next project would be a Sherlock Holmes adventure, I wondered how Cheri Costales could possibly interject dance numbers into that kind of story. The ungainly title, Mr. Mallard's Magical Menagerie and The Mystery of the Black Swan, should have given me a hint. It turns out that this is really two shows in one. There's the Holmes mystery, to be sure, but the other half is an Edwardian-era London musical hall revue. Combining detectives and dance was the task that Cheri set herself, and she pulls it off nicely in this world premiere production.

The conceit of the show is that it appears that there has been a murder at the Norwood Theatre in London. The owner of the theater is missing, just after he has had a young lawyer named John McFarlane draw up his will, leaving that same lawyer all his money and property. Right after McFarlane departs, a fire destroys the theater owner's office, incinerating the body so completely that only a few bones remain. Inspector Lestrade of the police arrests McFarlane for murder and arson, but just before being taken away, the young man protests that he is innocent and pleads with Sherlock Holmes to help him prove it. Although all the evidence points to MacFarlane, Holmes, of course, has instincts that tell him something is rotten here.

The theater survives the fire, and, as always, the show must go on. Mr. Mallard, the stage manager, has put together a musical "menagerie" of song and dance numbers, along with a mind-reading act that goes hilariously wrong. Basically, it's vaudeville, British-style. While Holmes and Watson are interviewing the theater performers and crew and looking for clues backstage, the show begins. In a clever touch, Holmes and Watson join us in the audience and watch the show together with us, occasionally interrupting and stepping on stage when inspiration strikes.

The Black Swan of the title is the stage name of the singer who is the star of the show. She is also John McFarlane's mother, Victoria. She and the theater owner have a past together, but despite the title, the mystery isn't about her. It's about how Holmes is going to crack the case, and Cheri, along with Steve Corona and Cara Sowers, have come up with a pretty good Sherlock story. Conan Doyle might be envious.

The musical numbers are all over the place—jazzy, balletic, modern, Chinese, exotic, lip-syncing, actual singing, etc.—but they're not meant to contribute to the plot. They're pure entertainment, just as if we were at an eclectic dance concert present-day. The dancing is remarkably well done, but the costumes are out of this world! I don't know how Cheri, Linda Downum, Judy Brewster, and Erin Morrison created them all on what I assume is a small budget.

The acting is quite good by almost everyone involved. Chris Ranney does a fine Holmes, funnier than you would expect. Steve Corona is great as Watson, especially in his scene with the two French performers played by Kira Akmajian and Aly Costales. Cara Sowers, as the Black Swan, is both a good actress and a good singer. Gennaro Leo does well by his British and Irish accents (he plays his own father, in flashbacks) and is an excellent dancer, too. Noel Tomingas is appropriately over the top as Mallard, the most dictatorial stage manager you could imagine. Isaac Garcia, a stalwart of the elite company, has a lovely little scene at the end, and Tim Nguyen is a riot as the totally incompetent mind-reader.

Every time I see a new elite production, I keep asking myself: How does Cheri Costales do it? Writing, direction, choreography, and costumes (with lots of help, of course). Doesn't she ever sleep? Lucky for Albuquerque, this bundle of energy calls our city home, and we get to experience elite's unique shows three or more times a year. Next up, in December, Peter Pan, but catch Mr. Mallard if you can.

Mr. Mallard's Magical Menagerie and The Mystery of the Black Swan, through September 15, 2018, by elite Dance & Theatre, at North 4th Art Center, 4904 N. 4th Street NW just north of Griegos), Albuquerque NM. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00, Saturday matinee on 9/15 at 2:00. Tickets $20 and $22. Some shows include food at intermission. For tickets and information, visit