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The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Gallery Players of Park Slope (Brooklyn) presents a revival of Rupert Holmes' interactive musical comedy, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Based on Charles Dickens' unfinished mystery novel of the same name, the show tells the story of upstanding young Drood, who mysteriously disappears--but whodunit? Was it his drug-addicted possible romantic rival John Jasper? The notorious Princess Puffer? Reverend Mr. Crisparkle? Helena or Neville Landless, immigrants from Ceylon? Someone else? And who is the enigmatic Dick Datchery? Audience votes help the company decide.
This a fun, tuneful, high-spirited show. When it was on Broadway back in 1986, it seemed ripe for more intimate treatment.
by Martin Denton · October 12, 2003
Wouldn't it be nice if a hundred dollars could buy an evening of light-hearted musical theatre for the entire family? At Gallery Players, it can: that C-note gets you and five others into their delightful production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood—and you'll even get some change back. (Compare with the typical Broadway musical, where the same money buys exactly one ticket.) Of course, the Park Slope alternative doesn't offer any big-name celebrities in the cast. But your chances of having a terrific time here are at least as high as in one of the big houses in the Manhattan: these folks are having a ball on stage and they're giving their all to make sure everybody in the audience has one too.
I actually saw Drood when it premiered on Broadway almost twenty years ago, with big names like George Rose, Cleo Laine, Howard McGillin, and Patti Cohenour in the cast. Their formidable talents notwithstanding, I had a much better time this past weekend at Gallery Players' revival. That's partly due to simple logistics: Drood is a very rowdy, very friendly, interactive musical, with cast members chatting and visiting with the audience quite frequently; in fact, its eponymous mystery is solved by audience vote, conducted by cast members stationed in the aisles. Now, the Imperial Theatre (where Drood played; more recently home to Les Miz) is just too mammoth to house such shenanigans comfortably. But the cozy Gallery Players space is the perfect size: Drood fits it like a glove.
More fundamentally, though, is the free-wheeling spirit of the show itself. Composer-lyricist-librettist Rupert Holmes has cannily crafted it as a show-within-a-show: we're in a British Music Hall (and a fairly modest one, at that) in the late Victorian period; the evening's entertainment is an original musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The story—which hardly matters most of the time: there's a short synopsis at the top of this page if you care to take a look—is constantly being interrupted: by the company's "Chairman," one Bill Cartwright, who narrates and comments on the plot; by exhortations to sing along with company favorites or to boo and hiss the villain; by the eager chorus of singers and dancers who are ready to leap, at a moment's notice, into the company's signature number "Off to the Races." (This rousing specialty is ingeniously wedged into the plot—sort of—to serve as the rousing first-act finale.)
The point is, nobody's taking anything very seriously here: lapses—some planned, some perhaps accidental—are part of the brew; heady high spirits rather than strict professionalism is what's on display. In a Broadway house, this kind of thing sits uneasily; but in a humble theatre in a basement in Brooklyn it's downright giddy fun.
Holmes has worked with Gallery Players to trim and slightly reshape his show, so if you're familiar with the score from the original cast recording you'll notice that a few songs are gone and a couple others have been added; the changes all feel right, speeding things along and placing the emphasis less and less on exposition and more on the music hall pastiche that is Drood's heart and soul. The highlights are "Both Sides of the Coin," a patter song performed by the Chairman and John Jasper, the story's villain; "Never the Luck," a sweet, silly waltz in which one of the company's perennially minor players wistfully bemoans his status; and "Don't Quit While You're Ahead," the big second-act show-stopper performed by the entire ensemble.
The mystery, which revolves around the apparent murder of Edwin Drood, is almost an after-thought, though Holmes and the actors have worked hard to provide alternate endings based on the outcome of the audience voting. I think that there are enough mathematical possibilities such that this cast need not perform the same ending twice during their month-long run.
It is now time to mention some of the enthusiastic, talented folk who are making this production of Drood such a lark. At the top of the list is surely director-choreographer Steven Smeltzer, whose staging is brisk and fresh and fun and full of energy (his choreography for "Don't Quit While You're Ahead," in particular, is splendid—absolutely Broadway-caliber). Michael Kramer's sets are simple, inventive, and light-hearted. (Jenna Rossi-Camus' costumes are mostly fine, but occasionally they're jarringly anachronistic; William Cusick's lighting feels a little darkly moodier than it needs to.) The four-man orchestra, led by musical director Ken Legum, is terrific. (The arrangements, uncredited, are outstanding as well.)
There are 22 (!) people in the cast, and they deliver enthusiastic performances. The four young men who comprise the male dance chorus—Rocco L. Arrigo, Dax Valdes, David Bishop, and Rikard Skogsberg—are especially exciting to watch. Among the principals, particularly fine work is offered by Frederick Hamilton as the suave but demented villain John Jasper, Peter Mensky as Drood's hotheaded Ceylonese nemesis Neville Landless, Allison Regnault as Neville's over-the-top-exotic twin sister Helena, Vinnie Kay as a fresh-faced naif called Deputy, and Keith Broughton as the Music Hall's put-upon Stage Manager. Anchoring the entire evening is Greg Horton in a truly bravura turn as the Chairman. When Horton and Hamilton take the stage in "Both Sides of the Coin," for example, they generate pure theatrical magic.
Drood even leaves us with some sage words of philosophy (from "Don't Quit While You're Ahead"):
Last update: 02 November, 2003
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