When Charles Dickens started writing his last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he didn’t think that he would die in the middle of writing it, leaving his last great work unfinished, and his audience left with another mystery on its hands, who killed Edwin Drood? In 1985, Rupert Holmes, best known for his hit “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” put the power of deciding the killer into the hands of a Broadway audience with his musical adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which is currently being given a breathtaking new life in a revival courtesy of The Roundabout Theatre Company.
Drood is structured as a play within a play, set in a Victorian music hall, the actors are playing actors portraying characters from Dickens’ unfinished novel. Before the show starts, the actors go out into the audience and get everyone excited and tell them some of the “rules” for example, when a villain enters the audience is supposed to boo. The interactive element of this musical is what makes it such a memorable theatergoing experience.
Drood tells the story of young Edwin Drood (Stephanie J. Block) who is betrothed to the lovely and talented Rosa Bud (Betsey Wolfe), the marriage was arranged by Edwin and Rosa’s parents long ago, after their marriage, Edwin and Rosa plan on going to Egypt, much to the dismay of Edwin’s uncle John Jasper (Will Chase), who also happens to be the local choirmaster and Rosa’s voice teacher. Jasper is also in love with Rosa (a fine motive to kill indeed).
In true Dickensian fashion, the audience is also introduced to a slew of other characters throughout the show, including The Princess Puffer (Chita Rivera), who runs an opium den frequented by Jasper, as well as twins Neville and Helena Landless (Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller) from Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). Helena befriends Rosa while Neville makes fast enemies with Edwin (the plot thickens). After a bad storm on Christmas, Edwin and Neville set out to the river, and Edwin is never seen again. The Princess Puffer and a stranger Dick Datchery (also Stephanie J. Block) come to town to see if they can solve the mysterious disappearance of Edwin.
The rest of the show is dedicated to figuring out what happened to young Edwin Drood, but alas, Charles Dickens died before he could provide anyone with an answer. This is where the audience comes in. The audience is asked to decide on three plot points. According to evidence, it is strongly suggested that Dick Datchery is someone whom the audience has already been introduced to in disguise. The first plot point to be decided upon by audience vote is: Who is Dick Datchery? Once the audience has decided who Dick Datchery is the show resumes with said character assuming the role of Datchery.
Just as, Datchery is about to solve the case, the audience is asked to decide on another plot point: Who is the killer? The audience selection then proceeds to sing a confession. The beauty of this show is that each suspect has their own confession song, making it a unique theater going experience ever time. And because what’s a musical comedy without a happy ending, the audience is also asked to decide on which two people should get together in the end.
The stand outs in the cast include Peter Benson as Bazzard who literally stops the show with his song “Never The Luck.” Performed with sweet sensibility and powerhouse vocals, Benson proves why he has been a fixture on Broadway for the past 16 years. Another stand out is Betsey Wolfe who makes a beautiful star turn here as Rosa Bud. Wolfe, who was featured along Sheri Rene Scott in Scott’s show Everyday Rapture, proves that her rightful place is center stage. Then there are the show’s two main stars, Stephanie J. Block and Broadway Legend Chita Rivera, it is so wonderful to see two stars from different generations electrify the stage with star power that could if need be, light the outside marquee of Studio 54.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is currently running at Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54. For ticket information visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.