PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER: Jessie Mueller Explains the Backstage Twists of The Mystery of Edwin Drood
By Michael Gioia
Tony Award nominee Jessie Mueller, who takes on the mysterious Helena Landless in Charles Dickens' final — and unfinished — story, explains how The Mystery of Edwin Drood is unraveled on Broadway.
Jessie Mueller, whose New York theatre career has soared since her Tony-nominated turn as Melinda Wells in the 2011 Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, is giving another critically acclaimed performance in a featured role. In Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a musical within a musical that is performed in the style of Victorian music hall, she plays the character of Miss Janet Conover, the actress who is featured as Helena Landless in the "Edwin Drood" plotline. In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a whodunit tale that is solved by audience vote, Landless can be cast as the story's detective, killer or love interest, leaving Mueller with multiple tracks to learn for the Broadway production. While on a break from recording the revival's cast album, we caught up with the actress, who explained the twists, turns and intricacies of the Tony-winning Rupert Holmes musical.
Were you familiar with the 1985 Broadway cast recording of The Mystery of Edwin Drood?
Can you tell me about the additional tracks for this cast recording that capture the show's possible outcomes?
Since the ending of the show is different each night, is it strange to hear a song that you've performed before with someone else's voice attached to it? You're constantly hearing different versions of the same song.
That seems like it can be confusing! Do you find yourself reviewing the material to prep before performances?
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…
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?
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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