Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Theater review: Actors spin an evening of intrigue in The Mystery of Edwin Drood
The only question remains, what really happened to Edwin Drood?
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, also known as Drood, is based on the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens which he released in episodic installments starting in 1870. Dickens died suddenly due to a stroke later that same year, causing many authors to try and finish his novel, though a lack of notes made it impossible to know what conclusion Dickens had intended.
The show is half play and hall music hall revue, meaning that the show follows the story behind Edwin Drood, yet it also follows the history behind the actors and their interactions onstage. Drood mysteriously disappears at some point, so the play explores what happened to him and who might have helped in his disappearance.
The musical, set in 1892 London, plays on this fact, giving the audience the opportunity to choose who they think is the villain. The actors then use this information to finish the performance. The play-within-a-play setting was very effective in portraying the things that were happening onstage. The story the actors were telling and also the story and interactions between the actors in the actors’ reality were very interesting to see.
Throughout the show, audience participation was a must, which was immediately apparent when the actors came out at during the pre-show to visit with the audience. This was the first time I have seen a show that called for a vote from the audience to determine what the ending was going to be. I was very intrigued by this approach, especially from a performance aspect. I appreciated how smoothly things went and the involvement that pulled me into the world of the play.
Costume design by Kristin Moore was good, with appropriate coloring to compliment the different personalities onstage. The costumes were in sync for all characters, looking great onstage especially when combined with the lighting design. I enjoyed how the costumes for the Landless siblings added to the hilarity of the show. Drood’s costume was also very well done. Since the role was played by an actress, I appreciated how well the costumes created a masculine presence.
Pavel Perebillo designed the lighting for the show. The use of different colors was very effective in illuminate the actors onstage and adding to the overall image throughout the play. I liked the subtle undertones the lights added to show the difference between the church building, Jasper’s home, and the seedy parts of London.
The choreographer was Linda Leonard, who created some very enjoyable dance scenes and also some very intentionally creepy ones, such as we see in “Jasper’s Vision.” The dancers were in sync for the most part and truly created the feel of a professional London theater from 1892 with its career actors.
The Chairman, or the presenter at the theatre, was impressively played by Bradley Campbell. He had an easy grace onstage and helped keep the audience abreast of the plot by introducing several of the scenes. Campbell had a very enjoyable performance throughout, standing out especially during the musical numbers “Off to the Races” and “Both Sides of the Coin.” I enjoyed how his choreography during those numbers fully integrated with his character.
John Jasper, the uncle who stalks his nephew’s fiancée Rosa Bud, was portrayed by John Campione. Campione had a strong performance onstage which was very apparent during his song “Jasper’s Confession” and conveyed a large amount of emotion. Other songs where Campione stood out were “Two Kinsman” and his part in the modern ballet performance of “Jasper’s Vision” where he moved with easy grace in the dance scene. All in all, Campione was very creepy and villainous, adding to the mystery of the show.
Sarah Smith was fantastic in her portrayal of Drood, the nephew who is the cause of most of the commotion. Smith had a strong clear voice and gave a very talented performance. I especially appreciated her performance in “Perfect Strangers” and “The Writing on the Wall” where she combined her skills as a singer with her very casual yet intriguing acting style.
Rosa Bud, the center of the love quadrilateral, was portrayed by Maranda Harrison. Harrison had a strong voice and a compelling performance throughout the show, standing out especially in “Moonfall” and “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” where she was able to convey strong amounts of emotion with an equally strong vibrato. Harrison truly does have an amazing voice. Her acting was strong as well and Harrison made it easy to see why the men sought Rosa’s hand. The ease with which she performed was admirable.
Wendy and Beatrice were portrayed by Lisa Ward and Lissie Mays, respectively. Ward and Mays showed strong dance backgrounds throughout the show, engaging with the other characters onstage and adding to the show throughout. Their performance in “Jasper’s Vision” and in the other scenes where they danced was impressive, with good technique and skill. Their interactions with other characters in the play were also interesting and dynamic.
Helena Landless, one of the British subjects, who with her brother, participates in the play, was portrayed by Juliette Talley. She was also the murderer on the night I saw the show. Talley showed a strong and caring character who wanted the best for her brother. Her performance in “Ceylon/British Subject” and “Murder’s Confession” was strong and believable. She also added to the comic element of the show with her extreme mannerisms and deliberately awkward accent.
Michael McNay portrayed the part of Neville Landless, the Brit with a temper, who is attempting to reform his ways. I especially appreciated his singing and dancing skills in “No Good Can Come from Bad” and his acting throughout the play. Though his character in the play within a play was creepy, it was also very entertaining to watch. His was the character that had me laughing the most due to his atrocious accent and awkward posturing.
Linda Leonard gave an incredible performance as The Princess Puffer. Her ease with dance was immediately apparent from the way she moved onstage, which when combined with her vocal talent was very impressive. I enjoyed her performance in “The Garden Path to Hell” and “The Wages of Sin” where she was especially strong, creating a believable performance.
Reverend Mr. Crisparkle was admirably played by R. Bradford Smith. Smith was good in “Ceylon/British Subject,” though when he performed “Out on a Limerick,” his singing was slightly off, making it difficult to understand what he was singing.
Durdles and the Deputy were played by Francis Henry and Michael McMillan, respectively. Though the only singing part where they were featured in the program was “Off to the Races,” they performed their role extremely well in this number. They were also fun to watch in all the other scenes they were in. Both Henry and McMillan were believable in the acting choices they made, adding to the plot and the performances of the cast.
Hunter Lewis portrayed the part of Bazzard, the actor who comes in for a very small part at the beginning of the play. His performance in “Never the Luck” was comedic, and his role throughout the play, though I never really saw why he was written into the novel, was strong and believable, adding a definite comic relief.
Noelle Chesney portrayed the part of Flo, who had a small role but accomplished her part well in a believable way. She was engaged in her performance and was skilled in the acting choices that she made and her interactions with the other characters onstage.
I highly recommend this play as the skills of the actors will impress, and the story will pull you in. The whole show will have you laughing heartily but also intrigued by the mystery. The only question remains, what really happened to Edwin Drood?
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