Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

‘Drood,’ a British Music Hall romp at GLTF

Charles Dickens had a stroke and died about two-thirds of the way through his novel ‘MYSTERY.’ Not wanting to waste any writing by the great British master, tune-smith Rupert Holmes transposed the material into an audience involving musical mystery now on stage at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival.

The musical is unique. First, it is one of the few modern examples of a show in which the book, lyrics, music, and orchestrations are all by the same creator. Secondly, it seems to be one of the only Broadway musicals which has multiple endings, depending on the whim of the audience.

The Broadway production, which ran from 1985 to 1987 starred Betty Buckley and Cleo Lane, to name a few, and won numerous Tony Awards.

The story centers on John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster, who is madly in love with his music student, Rosa Bud. Miss Bud however is engaged to Jasper's nephew, Edwin Drood. Drood mysteriously disappears one stormy Christmas Eve. Is he dead? If so, was he murdered? If so, who did it? Ah, a mystery!

The source for the musical was originally published in episodic installments, as were most of Dickens’ other novels. Upon Dickens demise, various authors, including Dickens’ son, tried to write an ending, but to no avail.

Holmes conceived the central premises of the show from the Dickens work, but changed the format. His concept was that of a play within a play, set in a typical British musical hall. Ironically, my first experience with the show was at London’s Victorian Club, where I was taken by a former student who was a member of the company.

Holmes used the vaudeville, slapstick, overacting, melodramatic characterizations that are the stock of the musical hall. The productions are narrated by ‘The Chairman” and there is always a “Lead Boy” played by a female, and audience participation.

Using the unfinished aspect of the Dickens’ script, during the second act, voting takes place to determine whether Drood was killed, and, if so, by whom. There is much encouraged hissing and booing during the selection process.

The Great Lakes production, under the directorship of Victoria Bussert, is mostly fun. It does not, however, compare to the show of my London experience. From start to finish, that performance was a romp due to the ability of the British to do farcical comedy so well. In the local production there are places in the first act, when the whole thing bogs down. But the second act, mostly due to a quickened pace, Martin Céspedes’s marvelous choreography, and the audience participation, picked up and the show concluded on a fun high.

Aled Davies is delightful as “The Chairman,” Jonas Cohen is correctly evil as John Jasper (including wearing black costumes and looking like the devil with his beard), Laura Perrotta is right on as the opium den operator, and Danny Henning delights and dances up a storm as the dim-wit deputy. The singing is good and “over-doing” characterizations is well honed.

The only major flaw is the over-exuberant orchestra under the direction of Matthew Webb. Often, the sound was so loud that it drowned out the lyrics being sung. When there is no hearing of lyrics, especially in a show like this in which the songs are not well known, the meaning of the words gets lost.

Céspedes stops the show with his choreography of “Setting Up the Score,” “Off to the Races,” and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.” All perfectly fit the music and kept to the music hall premise.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic design, Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, Norman Coates’ lighting and Stan Kozak’s sound designs all helped develop the correct musical hall atmosphere.

‘CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DROOD’ is not a great script. It doesn’t have a great musical score. It, is, however, fun and is a nice evening of theatre for those who like escapism, extended melodrama and creative choreography.