Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Bawdy and raucous, the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood has something that has been missing from most musicals this Broadway season—fun.  The actors on stage are full of boisterous merriment, which spills over to the audience who, in turn, are having a rib-tickling time in their seats.

Set in a 19th century London music hall, the stock players of the establishment’s company set out to enact Charles Dickens’ uncompleted novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”  Dickens, unfortunately, passed on before he could finish his tale.  The actors on stage, having a jolly good time, sing, dance, plot, scheme, and entertain until they reach the end of the novel.  Well, more like where Dickens stopped writing.  From there, playwright and composer Rupert Holmes came up with the ingenious solution of having the audience vote for how the show will conclude—who is the villain?  The suspects are lined up center stage while the ensemble members of the cast flood the audience to record, unscientifically, their preferences.  The chosen culprit, along with the rest of the cast, then enacts a proper ending to the story.  Holmes concocted enough scenarios so no matter who is chosen the production has a satisfying conclusion.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood has a first-rate group of actors that are more then game to play along with the premise of the show.  Not only are they skilled in their roles but, as mentioned earlier, they give the air of close-knit camaraderie and affection towards each other, which bubbles over to the audience.  The cast includes the wise-cracking Chairman of the troupe of players, Jim Norton; the slightly crazed John Jasper, played with a frenzied madness by Will Chase; the mysterious Edwin Drood, winningly portrayed by Stephanie Block; the innocent beauty Rosa Bud, played with virtue and purity by Betsy Wolfe; and the ever-youthful Broadway legend Chita Rivera as the enigmatic Princess Puffer.  Gregg Edelman, Jessie Mueller, and Andy Karl round out the fine cast.

Rupert Holmes, in the original production, won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score of a Musical.  The honors were well-deserved.  The book of the show, in a boisterous music hall setting, is lively and intriguing, satisfactorily leading up to the pre-denouement of the musical. 

Holmes’ score is tuneful and lilting, which is something you don’t always hear on today’s Broadway stage.  From the opening introductory song, “There You Are,” to the comic madness of “A Man Could Go Quite Mad,” to the beautifully haunting, “Moonfall,” to the fast-paced patter of “Two Sides of the Coin,” Holmes has written both music and lyrics, which even twenty-five years later, sounds fresh and engaging.

The composer also benefits from a group of actors that can deliver.  Most notable is Stephanie Block, finally in a hit musical after such flops as The Pirate Queen and 9 to 5 the Musical.  She, along with Betsy Wolfe, have powerful voices that fill the Studio 54 Theatre.   Then there is Chita Rivera lending her half-century worth of stage experience to the production.  A theatrical treasure, indeed, but she doesn’t just walk through her role as Princess Puffer.  She can still dance and sell a song.  Bravo to her.

Director Scott Ellis emphasizes the playfulness of the musical, without sacrificing the mystery underling the production.  He skillfully handles the audience participation portion of the show which, in less adept hands, could cause this momentum building moment to derail the production.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a pleasurable, diverting, and entertaining bit of Broadway razz-ma-tazz.