The Heritage Square crew delivers biting comedy

The gang at Heritage Square Music Hall has invented a form of theater entirely its own — a combination of scripted and improvised lines, audience interactions, clever jokes and silly jokes that repeat in every show, and we'd be disappointed if they didn't: What would be the point of a performance without Annie Dwyer attacking some guy in the audience, T.J. Mullin revealing his unexpectedly melodious tenor, Rory Pierce swaying in a skirt, showing off unexpectedly shapely legs? Audiences like the fact that the cast can be so hokey and so talented at the same time, and we can't imagine visiting this peculiar building — a 1950s replica of a genuine turn-of-the-century music hall — without hearing N. Randall Johnson's strong, nimble fingers dancing across the keyboard as he mixes ragtime, popular and classical music with joyous abandon.

The spoofiness level of the company's offerings varies: Some shows are just joyous, anything-goes-for-a-laugh evenings, others are a bit more serious or represent a genuine homage. The Hound of the Baskervilles leans toward the latter. You get straightforward acting that would fit a major drama (and English accents that are better than some of those in the Denver Center Theatre Company's Noises Off; the cast is exaggerating, but they have the rhythms down), as well as wildly anachronistic moments that only Heritage can provide.

The action is framed like a regular radio drama of the 1940s, with a deep, textured male voice setting each scene while sliding the sponsor's name in as often as possible; the plot concerns a corpse, a sinister manor house, dark moors and an apparently demonic dog. Mullin plays Sherlock Holmes fairly straight — you can tell from the program notes that he's a Conan Doyle fan — and Pierce does the same for Dr. Watson, though his bemused reactions are frequently hilarious. Whether semi-serious or hamming it up, these guys have terrific comic timing. In the past, I've found Charlie Schmidt's acting too mincing and grimace-y, but when he's held in check by the demands of the role — as he is as the lithely prancing Sir Henry Baskerville — his style works. Dwyer chews the scenery as the sinister Mrs. Barrymore, Scott Koop is pleasantly normal as Dr. Mortimer, Kira Cauthorn is demurely humorous, and it's still a pleasure to see the lively, sweet-singing Johnette Toye back with the group.

And since these generous-hearted folks know you expect some singing even when a production's not a musical, they oblige with a brief, all-stops-out sunshiny interlude after the show, a tribute to movie musicals that includes "A Couple of Swells," "Always" and "You Gotta Have a Gimmick," from Gypsy. The Triplets song is a laugh, and Dwyer gives everything she's got on "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart."

Even though this isn't the funniest Heritage show I've seen, I enjoyed myself hugely — and I always appreciate a chance to watch some of the best comic talents in the area strutting their stuff.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman