The Mystery of Edwin Drood Depends on Your Audience

Rupert Holmes’ interactive musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood is back. This unfinished first novel by Charles Dickens is at the Roundabout Theater Company and features Chita Rivera back on the boards. The show’s highlight is that every night there is a different killer and the audience gets to decide the ending, so the show is only as good as your audience.

Originally done as part of Shakespeare in the Park productions in 1986, it transferred to Broadway and won five Tony Awards for best musical, score, book, direction and lead actor. In this production the minor actors are who win big points.

The show performed by a company of actors is led by the wonderful Irish actor Jim Norton (Tony winner for The Seafarer and last seen in Finian’s Rainbow). Norton is delightful as the master of ceremonies, Royale’s Chairman, William Cartwright. He also steps in as the Mayor when the company member scheduled to perform is passed out at the bar. Norton brings back a bygone era.

As London’s leading male impersonator, Miss Alice Nutting otherwise known as Edwin Drood (the fabulous Stephanie J. Block), has been betrothed to Rosa Bud (Betsy Wolfe), since childhood. Drood’s uncle John Jasper (Will Chase), the choirmaster, is in lust with the virginal Rosa.

Reverend Crisparkle (Gregg Edelman), longs for Rosa’s dead mother; and his exotic houseguests, the Ceylonese twins Neville and Helena Landless (Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller), have their own agendas. The drunken stonemason Durdles (Robert Creighton), his grave-digging apprentice (Nicholas Barasch), and a bit player (Peter Benson) longing to play the lead, all manage to steal whatever time they have on stage with hilarity making the adage, there are no small roles, reliable.

The choirmaster has another addiction …opium and frequents Princess Puffer’s den in London. Originally Cleo Laine played this role, here played by Chita Rivera.

Anna Louizos sets, are spot on with a fog-incrusted graveyard and an impressive Victorian train station with incoming locomotive. William Ivey Long costumes bring to mind London’s Music Hall Royale in 1895. Warren Carlyle’s erotic dream ballet is a highlight as is Stephanie J. Block’s diva tantrum in Act II.

Holmes’ scores fails to standout this time around partly due to director Scott Ellis’s work. “The Writing on the Wall,” sung so stridently by Betty Buckley, is now talk sang by the vocally gifted Block and we wonder why she has been made to hold back. Betsey Wolfe, though good at what she does, fails to make us feel her terror so “Moonfall” doesn’t sound as haunted and bewitching. Will Chase as Jasper is not as menacing so the tension doesn’t rise to a fever pitch. As for Ms. Rivera, though it is a delight to see her back on a stage, she is just not right.

Sometimes a revival loses something in the transition. I loved the original version and this pales in comparison.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Studio 54, through March 10th

Mabel Mercer

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