The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Rupert Holmes' Boisterous Whodunnit "Solved" by Audience Vote, Opens on Broadway
By Adam Hetrick
Broadway audiences are transported to Victorian-era London to help resolve Charles Dickens' final, and unfinished tale, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which officially opens Nov. 13 at Studio 54. The Rupert Holmes musical, which stars Stephanie J. Block, Chita Rivera and Will Chase, allows audiences to vote on the ending of the intricate tale.
The musical is set up as a show-within-a-show, with a troupe of celebrated music hall performers enacting Dickens' incomplete 1870 novel. Holmes (Curtains, Say Goodnight Gracie, The Nutty Professor, "Remember WENN") wrote the book, music and lyrics, inviting audiences to take part in the action with a choose-your-own-adventure-style ending where they vote on which character murders Drood (as well as choosing a romantic pairing and the identity of a mystery detective). Holmes has penned multiple endings, confessional songs and plot twists for Drood, which keeps its actors on their toes.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood first premiered as part of Shakespeare in the Park in 1985. The celebrated production, stuffed with chamber pieces and English Music Hall-style songs, transferred to Broadway and picked up Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical.
"The idea of an unfinished book fascinated me," Holmes told Playbill in a recent interview. "Immediately, I turned to the last page, which broke off with an em dash [—] in mid-sentence. From that day on, it haunted me. I bought a copy at a train station in 1971, gave it a read, thought it would make an interesting musical and started writing it — there are still a few little fragments of music from that first attempt — but I set it aside until 1983." Read the full Playbill magazine interview here.
Scott Ellis (Harvey, Twelve Angry Men) directs the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which began performances Nov. 1 and is currently playing a limited run through Feb. 10, 2013. The revival has choreography by Warren Carlyle (Finian's Rainbow, Chaplin) and music direction by Paul Gemignani. The score features such songs as "Moonfall," "The Writing On the Wall," "Perfect Strangers, "The Wages of Sin" and "Two Kinsman."
Stephanie J. Block (Anything Goes, Wicked, The Pirate Queen) stars as Drood. The casting of a woman in the central role is in step with English Music Hall tradition of casting a celebrated actress in the role of a young man. Betty Buckley originated the role in 1985.
"We're musical hall performers playing these characters," Block told Playbill.com. "It takes place in 1895 in a music hall in London. And one of the great things, the pantomimes they put on there, the leading boy character would always be played by a female performer who is very well-known to be a male impersonator. So this isn't something that's out of the ordinary for a London audience of that time in the music hall."
Block also spoke of some new surprises in store for Drood fans. "It is brand-new stuff, things are being written every single day because there are so many opportunities for so many different endings," she said. "Rupert has written completely new scenes for the murderers, who Detective Datchery is, and especially for the lovers. The comedy that he is finding and expressing this time around is great, and I think the audience is going to be raucous and laughing with us every step of the way."
The cast of possible suspects and shadowy characters include Tony winner Chita Rivera (The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman) as Princess Puffer, Tony winner Jim Norton (The Seafarer) as Chairman, Will Chase ("Smash") as John Jasper, Gregg Edelman (City of Angels) as Reverend Mr. Crisparkle, 2012 Tony nominee Jessie Mueller (On a Clear Day…) as Helena Landless, Betsy Wolfe (Encores! Merrily We Roll Along) as Rosa Bud, Andy Karl (Legally Blonde the Musical) as Neville Landless, Nicholas Barasch as Deputy, Peter Benson (Wonderful Town, Harvey) as Bazzard, Robert Creighton (Anything Goes) as Durdles, Alison Cimmet (Baby It's You!), Jim Walton (Guys and Dolls, Merrily We Roll Along), Nick Corley, Justin Greer, Shannon Lewis, Kiira Schmidt, Eric Sciotto, Janine DiVita, Jenifer Foote and Spencer Plachy.
"Who killed Edwin Drood?" Roundabout asks. "It's a question that has stumped audiences for years — now it's your turn to answer one of Broadway's most baffling mysteries. Take a trip back in time to a Victorian music hall where a rowdy ensemble of actors mounts a staging of Charles Dickens' unfinished novel. Everyone on stage is a suspect in the murder of young Edwin Drood — and it's up to you to choose the killer! Is it John Jasper, Edwin's protective but slightly maniacal uncle? Rosa Bud, his reluctant betrothed? The debauched Princess Puffer? Each performance ends differently, depending on what the audience decides!"
The design team includes Anna Louizos (sets), William Ivey Long (costumes), Brian Nason (lighting) and Tony Meola (sound).
Tickets are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300, going online at roundabouttheatre.org or at the Studio 54 box office (254 West 54th Street). Ticket prices range from $42-$137.
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