Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Goodspeed Opera House

Charles Dickens’ last, unfinished, novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, seems like unlikely fodder for a musical, but in 1985 Rupert (“Pina Colada Song”) Holmes created such a theatrical piece that won multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


The Cast of Goodspeed's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Instead of a straightforward murder mystery, with Holmes creating his own ending, the playwright (as well as composer) came up with the fun-filled idea of letting the audience decide the culprit.  So, Act I is the set-up, following the pages of the half-completed book. Then the majority of Act II is a rowdy romp as suspects are identified, several key points are determined, and then the audience votes to unmask the scoundrel.  Adding more fuel to the boisterous proceedings is the backdrop for the production.  Again, with Rupert Holmes’ creative juices in high gear, he set the tale within the confines of a Victorian English Music Hall, sort of a play-within-a-play motif.   Performers step in and out of character as the musical moves forward in all its bawdy glory.

Lenny Wolpe and members of the Cast of Goodspeed's The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Photo by Diane Sobolewski

The production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Goodspeed Opera House, under the raucous, highly entertaining direction of Rob Ruggiero, makes for lively, exuberant theater.  The cast is first-rate, under the guidance of the Chairman of the Music Hall, played with good-natured naughtiness by Lenny Wolpe.  Ann Beyersdorfer’s marvelous, multiple set designs along with Hunter Kaczorowski’s elegant and busker-tinged costumes add to the Victorian era ambiance of the show.


The story has all the ingredients of a classic murder mystery and is overseen by the Chairman of the Music Hall.  He serves as narrator, chief punster, and one of the players.  The plot begins with the protagonist, young Edwin Drood, who is betrothed to the beautiful Rosa Bud.  Drood’s somewhat demented, opium addicted uncle and choirmaster is in love with Edwin’s bride-to-be, who happens to also be his pupil.  A recent arrival from Ceylon, the petulant Neville Landless, also has his sights on the appealing Ms. Bud, much to the displeasure of her fiancĂ©.  Other characters in the mix are Helena Landless, the protective sister of Neville; the gentile Reverend Crisparkle; the mysterious Princess Puffer; Durdles, the perpetually inebriated cemetery worker; and even the lovely Rosa Bud.  All fall under suspicion after the youthful Drood doesn’t return home from an evening walk with Neville Landless on a stormy Christmas Eve night.


Rupert Holmes’ score is melodic and tuneful, full of robust compositions, charming ballads, and finely-crafted music hall ditties.  The lyrics are witty and full of amusing and entertaining word play.

The Cast of Goodspeed's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

The cast, all first-rate performers with handsome, powerful singing voices, are led by Mamie Parris as the adventurous Edwin Drood.  She exudes a spirited confidence and a powerful singing voice that gorgeously resonates throughout the theater.  Lenny Wolpe is marvelous as the mischievous, impetuous, and off-color Chairman.  Paul Adam Schaefer is convincingly menacing as the lustful, slightly off-kilter John Jasper.  The actor, who was in The Phantom of the Opera for 16 years, possesses an impressive singing voice.  Riley Noland, with a gorgeous, almost operatic voice, is alluring and refined as the much sought after Rosa Bud.  Jamie LaVerdiere, a former Connecticut Critics Circle Best Actor award winner, is delightful as the forlorn Bazzard.   Levin Valayil gives Neville Landless an enigmatic air.  He is suitably combative as well as passionate, an excellent counterpoint to the other characters.  Jetta Juriansz, brings a sinister edge as Helena, Neville's protective, enigmatic sister.  Kelly Lester brings a seasoned professionalism to the role of Princess Puffer, offering a perfect balance to the younger cast members.

The Cast of Goodspeed's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Director Rob Ruggiero corrals an energetic cast that is clearly having a good time on stage.  He keeps the dynamics flowing and seamlessly transitions the musical through a multitude of scenes.  He skillfully inserts The Chairman in and out of the production without causing the show’s tempo to slow or go off course.  Ruggiero utilizes the whole of the Goodspeed theater – performers running up and down the aisles, barking from the balcony – to bring out the boisterous, jaunty nature of the show.  The Director skillfully orchestrates the audience participation portion of the musical, keeping the segment jolly and on-task.  

Choreographer James Gray injects vigorous dance numbers that energize the production, whether spotlighting the high-spirited ensemble members or the entire cast.


The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a crowd-pleasing musical, at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 2.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

Friday, April 12, 2024

EVERLY - The Music of the Everly Brothers - Ivoryton Playhouse

EVERLY – the Music of the Everly Brothers, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through April 28, is more of a concert than a jukebox musical.  There is no libretto or any assemblance of a book.  Instead, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer’s lives and career – the high’s and low’s – are presented with snippets interspersed between the rollicking tunes and somber ballads.

The Everly Brothers – Don and Phil – were pioneers of country rock and influenced a who’s who of musical legends, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.  The two actors in the show, Eric Anthony and Ben Hope are engaging, personable, and fabulous musicians.  The real-life friends bring a joy and infectious temperament to the production they created.  As with a concert setting, they joke with the audience (as well as themselves) and urge those in attendance to sing along.  Dozens of songs are performed during the production, including such hits as "Bye Bye Love", "Wake Up Little Susie", "All I Have to Do Is Dream", and "Cathy's Clown."
Eric Anthony and Ben Hope in EVERLY - The Music of the Everly Brothers.
Both Anthony and Hope perform double, even triple duty on the show.  Hope is also the Director, Scenic and Costume Designer.  Anthony is the Musical Director for the musical.  As Director, Hope brings a laid back, easygoing style to the presentation.  He and his partner simply roam from one side of the stage to the other, stop, impart a quick story, and go into song.
The Sound Design by Jonathan White is clear and crisp no matter where one is seated.  Ben Hope’s Scenic Design, like the production as a whole, is modest in its concept.  Large geometric shapes float above the stage, serving as screens for Jessica Drayton and Jonathan White’s projections.  Most of the projections are moody, abstract works; colorful patterns, and scenes of nature, which don’t always relate to the songs presented on stage.
EVERLY – the Music of the Everly Brothers, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through April 28.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Sanctuary City - Theaterworks Hartford

The characters in playwright Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City are undocumented immigrants seeking to secure their American dream.  High school students, each with their own set of parental issues, live and work, mostly in the shadows to avoid detection and possible deportation.  Their names are never mentioned.  In the program, they are simply referred to as G (female character) and B (male character).  In a way, they are representative of all who have come before them and will come after them.

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

The first part of the show, a 100-minute, intermission-less production, is often absorbing with many compelling issues to digest.  However, the second half of the play, with its roundabout banter and quickly resolved complications, makes it a less than fulfilling work.


The play opens with G (Sara Gutierrez) pounding on the bedroom window of B (Grant Kennedy Lewis), seeking refuge from her abusive father.  Over the course of the next 60 – 70 minutes, Directors Jacob G. Padron and Pedro Bermudez intricately choreographs the duo’s interactions in a wave of staccato-like scenes.  They inventively utilize the Lighting, by Designer Paul Whitaker, and Sound, by Designer Fabian Obispo, to designate the changing clipped interactions, presenting exchanges from present and future angles.  During this timeframe, B and G’s relationship grows stronger, bonding over their shared circumstances, yet in an unrequited manner.  At one of their later night-time trysts, G announces that her mother has secretly obtained her naturalization papers, which now makes both of them citizens.  Her dream of attending college can now be fulfilled.  With a plan to aid her companion, she is off to start her next chapter of life.

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

In the latter part of the show, taking places 3 ½ years later, their relationship and grand plans have drastically changed.  A third character, Henry (Mishka Yarovoy), a law student, is introduced into the equation.  It was at this point that Sanctuary City becomes less captivating and convincing.  Arguments go in circles, motivations are questionable, and life-changing outcomes are briskly rendered.  A play that begins with energy and excitement peters out in the end.


The three-person cast is highly engaging with Sara Gutierrez (G) and Grant Kennedy Lewis (B) providing charismatic and sympathetic portrayals.  They convey a desperation that feels raw and real.  Their characters come across as slightly strained towards the end of the production which, to some extent, can be attributed to their maturing roles and unfulfilled dreams.  Mishka Yarovoy (Henry) is effective as an unexpected third wheel.


Mishka Yarovoy and Grant Kennedy in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

Ms. Majok tackles the of-the-moment issue of undocumented immigrants– their hopes, dreams, and fears - with potent naturalness and urgency.  In the beginning, at least, her work is decidedly theatrical as the two main players and the overall scenario is laid out.  However, as strong as the initial stages of the play are, the final resolutions are hampered by unclear motivations and festering conflicts resolved too swiftly.


Directors Directors Jacob G. Padron and Pedro Bermudez adeptly guide the show through its compelling start, but falter somewhat at the end.  They artfully weave in Scenic Designer Emmie Finckel’s minimalistic set, with its veiled 9/11 photo collage and Mr. Bermudez’s projections.


Sanctuary City, playing at Theaterworks Hartford through April 25.  Click here for tickets, times and dates of performances.