PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER: Jessie Mueller Explains the Backstage Twists of The Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Michael Gioia
22 Dec 2012

Mueller in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Photo by Joan Marcus
How do you find out what part you've been chosen to play for that final sequence?
JM: Let's see… The audience votes for who [plays] Datchery, and that happens on stage, and it's announced on stage, so everybody knows — audience, cast members — at the same time. Then, when they do the murderer vote, the audience votes with our vote-takers, who are members of the cast. They collect the little sheets that they [keep track of the] votes on — because they really do count hands, and they write them down — and they go backstage to our assistant stage manager, who's usually Scott [Taylor Rollison], who stands there and tallies them all. Whenever he's done tallying the votes, he makes an announcement over the PA [system, to the cast]. People are either backstage or downstairs or in their dressing room, and you hear who the murderer is usually during Chita Rivera's song — the song that [Princess Puffer] sings with Rosa, [played by Betsy Wolfe] — so if it's Puffer or Rosa, they don't know until they've left that scene! There's also a posting that's put up backstage, so that if you need to check before you go on for your next scene, it's posted there so you can refresh your memory.

Betsy Wolfe, who plays Rosa, and Bobby Creighton, who plays Durdles, [are] the ones who have to announce the Datchery and the murderer on stage… Every once in a while, they have that moment of, "Oh, God, who was it tonight?," because we do it so often and it changes. [Laughs.] They have lines that are set up, and then they have to fill in the blank for whoever is chosen that night… They're pros, but it's that moment of, "What's going to happen?!" It's very truthful — what you're seeing up there. [Laughs.]

During that moment of being chosen, I imagine the feeling of your stomach dropping for a second…
JM: Oh, yeah! Then you're like, "Oh, I got this! I can do this!"

Rupert Holmes has made some revisions to the material. Can you tell me about working with him? Has it been a fluid process throughout rehearsals?
JM: Yeah. Rupert Holmes has been amazing. He's been with us since our first day of rehearsal and really throughout the entire process… He is just one of the kindest, most generous and brilliant people I think I've ever met. He's so smart, but he's so approachable. He was there from the get-go to answer any questions. If we had a question about a lyric or if he wanted to change something, he was in the room. There are some new lyrics in this version that were not in the original — revised lyrics [and] revised scenes. He was really game to make some things new and revisit things with us or reinvent stuff depending on what we were bringing to the project. It was a great, reciprocal relationship. He's been amazing, and he's around today, too, as we're recording!

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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