The Mystery of Edwin Drood

a kate west review
book, music, lyrics by Rupert Holmes
directed by Scott Ellis
musical direction by Paul Gemignani
choreographed by Warren Carlyle
a Roundabout Theatre Company production
at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY, 10019
running  November 13, 2012 - March 10, 2013
contact (212) 719-1300 or click here

Charles Dickens never finished writing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood". He died instead. So of course the only thing to do was to turn it into a musical and have the audience guess the ending. Right? That was the idea behind Rupert Holmes' vision anyway. Who better for the job than Roundabout Theatre, who sure do like to put on some fun productions (see previous review here). "Drood" (in grand old music hall tradition no less)  is no exception. And what's even more fun? To perform at the most famous former night club in the world, Studio 54. So now you'll want to see the show so you'll be able to say you were there too, just like Andy Warhol. Can't get hipper than that.

Edwin Drood (Stephanie J. Block of "Wicked" fame) is a Victorian gentleman (yep, played by a woman to stir up more mystery) who suddenly disappears. Is he dead? Who killed him? His fiance Rosa (Betsy Wolfe) or his rival John Jasper (Will Chase) or the suspicious eastern foreigners, Helena and Neville Landless (Jessie Mueller and Andy Karl)? The possibilities are endless and there is no shortage of audience participation in figuring it all out, so be forewarned. But don't worry, there is a narrator, the Chairman (Jim Norton), who guides us in the plot and in our reactions, occasionally jumping in and out of characters (as do most of the cast). A cheery Master of Ceremonies, fitting for a raucously bawdy-lite evening.

In this particular production, Chita Rivera was supposed to play Princess Puffer, madame of an underground opium den, but was substituted with Alison Cimmet, who was just fine (her normal role of Violet Balfour went to Jenifer Foote). In fact, the entire ensemble shows us a romping good time and sing some rowdy songs, including "There You Are", "Moonfall", "Ceylon" and "Off to the Races". The first act might drag a bit but the second act involves the spectators even more directly so that will definitely rouse you. The actors are all pros of course, and laughter abounds (unlike the dreary notes of the original novel). Block does a great disgruntled diva.

It's a play-within-a-play, with actors playing actors playing Dickens characters, but mostly talking to us. Some of them will run about the aisles and yes, might drag up an unsuspecting patron of the arts right there on stage. But everyone seems so earnest and of such enthusiastic good cheer that you can't help but be drawn into the fun, especially with all the asides and winks going on. Plus you get to choose the ending. And maybe sing a few notes yourself. A charming production, "Drood" delivers the fun, if not all the answers. But what fun would life be without a little mystery?

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