BWW Review: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Connecticut Repertory Theatre
In today's world, entertainment is all about personalization, customization, and influence. From television shows that allow you to choose the direction of the plot (e.g., BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH) to the numerous on demand books, podcasts, and films that are ready whenever the mood strikes, audiences today are used to having choices. But what about the theatre? How often does the gathered crowd have the opportunity to impact the outcome of the story unfolding in front of them? Well, with Connecticut Repertory Theatre's latest production THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, Rupert Holmes' Tony Award winning musical, that happens every performance - making for a wild, wacky, and wonderful experience for everyone.
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD is based on the final work of Charles Dickens, one which was never finished due to his untimely death. Long considered a literary mystery in and of itself, the story was given new life by Rupert Holmes as an "ahead of its time" interactive musical experience. The play within a play is set in a Victorian-era English Musical Hall where a motley crew of performers are about to put on the premiere production of this tale. The play constantly breaks the fourth wall, transforming the gathered audience into patrons of the garish and gaudy music hall. Guided by the jovial and punny Mr. William Cartwright (Kurt Zischke), the chairman of the hall, the cast is introduced, and the play begins. The story revolves around young Edwin Drood (Emily Ferranti) who is betrothed to the beautiful Rosa Bud (Graceann Brooks), much to the chagrin of John Jasper (Bryan Mittelstadt), Edwin's uncle and Rosa's voice teacher who is secretly in love with her. Jasper holds a shocking secret involving regular visits to the opium den run by the Princess Puffer (Kelly Lester) and is pushed to the edge by new arrivals from Ceylon, Neville and Helena Landless (Mauricio Miranda, Rebekah Santiago) who have come to stay with the Rev. Crisparkle (Nikolai Fernandez). Confrontations take place, feelings are laid bare, and after a contentious dinner on a dark and stormy Christmas Eve, the mystery unravels. Add into the mix the drunken caretaker Durdles (Rob Barnes), his assistant, Deputy (Matt Bader) and the mysterious (and underleveraged) Bazzard (Sebastian Nagpal) and you have the makings for a thrilling evening. Once Act II rolls around, the plot abruptly halts (where Dickens stopped writing) and the real fun begins. The audience is then given the opportunity to direct three different plot points by voting on the identity of the masked detective, Dick Datchery, the murderer, and the secret lovers. With over one hundred different combinations possible, every performance has the chance to be unique and different.
Overall, CT Rep's production of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD is fresh, fun and simply marvelous. Rupert Holmes' book and score are tuneful, engaging, and memorable. Paul Mullins' direction is high-energy, physical, and perfectly suited for the style and setting of the play. The large cast of 22 actors form a very cohesive ensemble, punctuating the levity of the evening. And considering they have to be ready for any combination of endings, they have to be on their toes every evening. There are too many Great Performances to name them all, but a few stand out. First, as Edwin Drood, Emily Ferranti is a thrill to watch. Her spot-on accent, her buttoned up and haughty Ned, and her magnificent voice add up to a thrilling star turn. Equally exciting to watch is Kelly Lester as the Princess Puffer. She is bawdy yet charming and brings the house down with each of her songs. Kurt Zischke brings the role of the Chairman/Mayor Sapsea to life brilliantly, holds the show together with his transitions (and hilariously bad puns) and is as warm and inviting as one would expect from the host of such an extravaganza. Graceann Brooks brings a beautiful soprano and an innocent air to Rosa Bud, and as the Landless siblings, Mauricio Miranda and Rebekah Santiago are mysterious and fun.
From a creative standpoint, the skilled eleven-piece orchestra, under the direction of Alex Thompson brings Mr. Holmes' score to brilliant life. Alexander Woodward's sets are centered around a beautifully simple music hall façade, and work perfectly for each dramatic and comedic scene. Brittny Mahan's costumes are beautiful with velvet dresses, bustles, and corsets for the women and fun patterned coats and trousers for the men. Joey Morrissette's lighting and Teddy Carraro's sound is well-done, especially during the pivotal storm scene, and Rebekah Santiago's choreography is frenetic and fun.
Overall, CT Rep's THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD is the perfect escape from this cold, Connecticut winter. The cast assembled is warm and inviting and their performance is entertaining, funny and extremely well-done. And though there is only one performance left tonight (March 10), I am looking forward to the next CT Rep production, IF WE WERE BIRDS later this month.
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT closes on March 10. For tickets to the next production of IF WE WERE BIRDS, which runs from March 28 - April 7, call 860.486.2113. To purchase tickets online, visit www.crt.uconn.edu.
Top Photo Credit: The cast of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Mid-Photo #2: The potential murderers in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.