Only once did Charles Dickens let the reader down. On June 8, 1870, the 58-year-old writer put in a full day's work on "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," suffered a stroke and had the temerity to die the next day, taking the identity of who did it to his grave.
Since then, there has been a lot of conjecture, elementary deductions and downright grave-robbing by people trying to resolve this cold case. Solutions have been paraded in print, on radio, in film, on TV and in a stage musical.
The show that Rupert Holmes has mischievously advanced in the latter medium (now getting a Broadway revival by Roundabout Theatre Company) may well be the most even-handed of the lot: He leaves the unmasking to the audience. Four or five songs into Act Two — right in the middle of the aptly titled and quite literal showstopper "Don't Quit While You're Ahead" — the action comes to a complete halt, and an announcement is gravely made: "Ladies and gentlemen, it was at this point in our story that Mr. Charles Dickens laid down his pen forever."
|photo by Andrew Eccles|
"The idea of an unfinished book fascinated me," Holmes admits. "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."
That year, he was doing an act of comedy and music at Dangerfield's and, one night, got a note backstage from Gail Merrifield Papp saying, "Have you ever thought of writing a musical? If so, we should talk." The next day, he was in her office talking about Drood.
"When she asked how we would conclude it, I said the most theatrical concept would be for the audience to decide from a variety of endings. We walked into Joe Papp's office, told him the same thing, and he encouraged me to write it."
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