PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Holmes' Sweet Home

By Harry Haun
14 Nov 2012

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Block, who inherited the conceit of this trouser role from Betty Buckley, blithely plays the pants off it, but sings true to her gender — for a reason. "Rupert still writes in a female key," she said. "It's not in a male octave so you gotta go there.

"I just love this show so much, and I love this cast even more. They're just delicious and fun. We trust each other, and, if something happens on stage, it just adds to the whole music-hall feel. If there's a mistake or somebody goes up, it works."

Costumer Long's supreme moment in this show — he always supplies at least one giddy, heady laugh — is the get-up he provided for her huffy diva exit from the stage. How do you accessorize a real bustle? With a real live dog — her own pup, a Maltese-Yorkshire terrier mix. "It's part wardrobe, part my vanity, and then all dog. The dress is heavy and huge, but, man, it's worth every pound. The audience really loves it."

George Rose's Tony-winning role of the Chairman who narrates and steers the story along (and, in a pinch, pinch-hits for a plastered actor) has been entrusted to the very able and very Irish Jim Norton, himself a Tony winner (for Seafarer).

"It's an absolute joy to do this play," he admitted. "I like the fact that it's like being on a tightrope without having a net. I'm not all that familiar with the world of musicals so each night I learn more. I've only done Finian's Rainbow, and I think, as a result of that, they decided, 'Yeah, he's up for this. We'll get him to play the Chairman.'"

The part is primarily an acting role — and vintage acting, at that. "I've always been interested in the Victorian acting. I've listened to recordings, and, when I was very young, I went to see Emlyn Williams in a one-man show based on information about how Dickens did his show. I went back three nights in a row just to see this man perform so I've actually stolen a lot of that style for the part of the Chairman."

Chase's clean-cut all-Americanism has been successfully sabotaged by a thin sliver of a mustache, as befits the character that most authorities feel Dickens was singling out as the designated killer, the hop-head choir master, John Jasper, who has the hots for Edwin Drood's fiancée, Rosa Bud. "I dive in," Chase said of his new and sinister look. "My agent, manager and girlfriend hate it, but what're you going to do?

"I never saw the original stage production of Drood, which is why I wanted to do this piece. I wanted to be Howard McGillin when I grew up, and I wanted to have that voice. I owe most of my performance to Howard. Sonically, he's just brilliant."

He and Norton draw their loudest and longest applause for "Both Sides of the Coin," a number with an intense patter portion that might have been perfected after they were locked in a closet for six hours. It brings the house down, but it's no big deal, he contended. "The patter part of it was one of the easiest things to learn. Even my kids learned it by themselves. It's one of the most fun moments Jim and I have. It's been fun to have him around to talk about Victorian actors and music hall. He shed a lot of light on that. We've forgotten about Grand Gesture, and it's a lot of fun to get to do. You never get to do it. Everything is so naturalistic. It's fun to ham and get away with it."