Back in the spring, I first saw an article that Roundabout would be reviving The Mystery of Edwin Drood this fall and I have been SO EXCITED about it ever since. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of those shows that a lot of people have never heard of, but those who know it tend to love it. A lot.
Set in an English Music Hall, every actor in Drood portrays two characters – the character of an actor at the English Music Hall, and a character in the story of Edwin Drood. The entire show is one play within another play – and you’re better off knowing that before you arrive or the beginning of the show can be a little bit confusing!
Using a format in which the actors transition frequently between playing Music Hall performers and playing their part in the story, you are introduced to the Mystery of Edwin Drood – a novel that Dickens was only about 2/3 finished writing at the time of his death in 1870. The score is one of my favorites and many of the songs in the first act – There You Are, Both Sides of the Coin, The Wages of Sin, and No Good Can Come From Bad – are wonderful. The audience participation level is high; you are very likely to be approached by a member of the cast before the show even starts, and you will be asked to speak or sing more than once. It’s all part of the fun of being at a show where the fourth wall essentially doesn’t exist. One of my favorite moments in this production comes when one of the main characters, John Jasper, is sneaking out of a crypt in the graveyard for suspicious reasons, and the stage manager stands on the stage with him, slowly letting the air out of a balloon to act as the squeaky door of the crypt.
Throughout the first act, the “Chairman” of the Music Hall points out moments in the show you should take note of, because in the second act the show ends abruptly, mid-song, and they explain to you that at this point Dickens has died and now it is up to YOU – the audience – to decide how the story ends! The scene in which your choices are given to you is one of the strongest in the show. The audience was laughing non-stop throughout. You vote on three major plot points, which the cast then dutifully acts out. Yes, there really are many different ways that the show can end, and the show really does end in accordance with how the audience votes. So if you go to see the show three times, you can see three different endings.
The big story of this production, of course, is that Chita Rivera has taken on one of the starring roles. She is funny and engaging throughout, but in my opinion there are bigger stars in this production. Jessie Mueller as the exotic Helena Landless was absolutely the standout performer for me (and for the rest of the audience too – we voted for her to play a rather large part in the conclusion!) Additionally, Gregg Edelmann as the Reverand Mr. Crisparkle was delightful, and the comedic duo of Robert Creighton as the town stonemason and drunk, Durdles and Nicholas Barasch as his deputy were a wonderful highlight.
You may not want to take the kids to this one – the play-within-a-play format could be a little confusing for young’uns, and there is some bad language, drug use, and references to prostitution within the story. However, it’s a very enjoyable night out for friends or couples – you have to be ready for some silliness though! Don’t be prepared to take anything too seriously, or you will be in the minority. Relax, have fun, and don’t forget to pay attention to the clues: the Mystery of Edwin Drood is yours to solve!