The query in The Mystery of Edwin Drood is not whodunnit, but rather why and how?
Based on the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, Vero Beach's Riverside Theatre is presenting a boisterous revival on the Waxlax Stage. The interactive musical was nominated for nine Tony Awards, taking home five, including Best Musical in 1985. The production runs through February 4.
Dickens began publication of Drood in 1870 in ongoing installments. When he suddenly died later that year, the novel was never finished leaving all sorts of questions hovering in the provincial English town of Cloisterham where the story is primarily set.
When Rupert Holmes was approached to write a musical for the New York Shakespeare Festival, Holmes chose to tackle this bedeviling mystery. It was the first Broadway show to have multiple endings. The audience completes the story by voting on the murderer.
So who is Holmes? He wrote the 1979 chart-topper “Escape” — better known to many of us as the “The Pina Colada Song” (Sing along now: “If you like pina coladas … ”). As an author Holmes scored a pair of Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. In Drood, Holmes is best at writing puns and double-entendres, firing them off so rapidly you simply have to break down and laugh.
The show is really a play-within-a-play, presented by the members of a musical hall troupe in Victorian-era London at the fictional Music Hall Royale in 1895. Director-choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the action swirling round-and-round, while giving the performers plenty of room to shine.
Holmes' cheeky musical begins just before Christmas. The plot concerns Drood’s engagement to Rosa Bud (Rachael Ferrera), who is lusted after by Drood's uncle, John Jasper (Peter Saide), the crazed villain. Choirmaster of Cloisterham's cathedral, Jasper is Rosa's music teacher and at the heart of the dark, brooding parts of the story. Recently arrived from India, Brian Krinsky’s seething Neville Landless fancies the damsel-in-distress Rosa, too. He comes into the show with his sister, Helena Landless, (Claire Neumann.)
Anne Brummel, who is playing Alice Nutting, is a temperamental renowned male impersonator, in the role of Drood. She does a fine job playing two different genders. Warren Kelley's witty master of ceremonies rides herd on all the campy suspects. There is John Paul Almon’s meddlesome Reverend Crisparkle, Sally Mayes’ Princess Puffer, a wickedly sashaying lady of the night. Andrew Sellon’s downtrodden actor, steals every scene he's in as Bazzard. Norman Large’s wisecracking stonemason, Durdles, is talented at slapstick comedy, while Sarah Primmer plays the eager maiden, Flo.
When Drood disappears on a stormy evening (loads of thunderclaps) it would seem most of the characters have possible motives. The production combines raucous comedy, outlandish puns, lush tunes and audience participation to create a festive atmosphere even in the face of death, so integral to the plot.
The characters are stock melodrama types, brought to life by the talented players. A five-piece live orchestra performs Holmes’ Tony-winning score, which ranges from lively Gilbert-and-Sullivan style patter numbers such as "Both Sides of the Coin” to haunting ballads like “Moonfall.”
The one-act production runs nearly two hours, a bit long to sustain the fragmented plot, which loses momentum during the protracted voting portion. Still, the spirited cast and high-energy execution by director Salisbury sparkles, while set designer Richard Crowell and costumer Kurt Alger do superb work conjuring up London’s gaudy Music Hall Royale.
So how did our Wednesday performance's voting go? The audience chose Reverend Crisparkle as the murderer. Princess Puffer and Durdles fall in love. Put on your detective cap and give it a whirl.