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 fiancé.  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.

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