Charles Dickens died while in the middle of writing a mystery novel. So the world will never know the truth behind "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." In the 1980s, Rupert Holmes wrote a musical version of this mystery tale. It premiered as part of Central Park's Shakespeare in the Park and then moved to Broadway where it played for about 18 months. And now, until March 2013, the Roundabout Theater Company is producing a mostly wonderful, but slightly confusing limited run revival at Studio 54.
The action takes place at London's Music Hall Royale, in 1895, where a troupe of thespians is presenting "their" version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This is part of the confusion in the show, since the actors are playing both the actors in the troupe, as well as the characters in Dickens story. And while some of the songs in the show pertain to the mystery, others are purely London musical hall and have no bearing on what happened to Edwin Drood. A bigger problem for me was the speed at which the narration is done. Jim Norton as the Chairman of the troupe talks so fast that even though I knew his lines, I had difficulty following him. Chita Rivera as Princess Puffer also seems to be rushing through her part. Of the other actors, the one I enjoyed the most was Will Chase, as the most obvious villain of the piece. However, as much as I enjoyed him as John Jasper, I felt as though I was watching an odd version of Jekyll and Hyde. Stephanie J. Block is her normal wonderful singing self, but I never really believe her as a male character.
The hook of the piece is the fact that Dickens did not finish the book. So, Rupert Holmes came up with answers to questions that Dickens did not resolve. The troupe of actors lays out the possibilities to the audience, and the audience gets to vote on the identity of a mysterious character appearing in Act Two and on who murdered Edwin Drood. The voting can go on a bit long, but once the resolution is decided, the actors do a marvelous job of presenting it. And that's the most enjoyable part of the show, the fact that the actors all seem to be having a lot of fun on the stage.
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