Review: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Candlelight Music Theatre

The production runs through February 25

By: Mar. 25, 2024
Review: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Candlelight Music Theatre
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Candlelight Music Theatre normally plays it safe when scheduling a season. That’s why Aisle Say was surprised that “THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD” was part of this year’s season. And more so for the musical was written by Rupert Holmes, whose most prominent claim to fame was his #1 Billboard hit, the romantically funny tune, “The Pina Colada Song”. (To give Holmes his due, the musical won the Tony for Best Musical in 1986).

Charles Dickens wrote the novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” but died before it was completed. Holmes wrote both music and lyrics and created this mise en scene of the Dickensian whodunit to the pantomime and music hall genres that were popular at Dickens’ death. Music halls performances also included audience participation, bawdy comedy and male drag. Director Jeff Reim employs all of these prompts to create hilarious interactions with the sell-out Sunday matinee crowd. Everyone loved being immersed in the plot and, in the finale, voting on the murderer. (There are 8 possible suspects).

It’s a ‘show within a show’, with the actors not playing Dickensian characters but music hall players performing as Dicken’s characters. Yes, dear reader, it’s all a bit confusing, with as many characters and plot turns as there are slamming doors in NOISES OFF. At the end, though, the show is immensely entertaining and a ground breaker for Candlelight. As Rupert Holmes himself said: “Consider what Cole Porter’s KISS ME KATE is to Shakespeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW”.

While the songs are not particularly memorable, they do move the plot along at a pretty pace. Two stand out, Princess Puffer’s (Connie Pelesh) “The Wages of Sin” and the triumphal, show stopper, “Both Sides of the Coin”, a choreographic feat staged by Jody Anderson and led by The Chairman (Bob Gatchel) and Jasper (John Murphy). Gatchel especially reminded one of the gatling gun recitative songs sung by the incomparable Danny Kaye. The Chairman instigates all the action. Gatchel as performer/puppet master, is in complete control of his environment. The audience is in his grasp at all times.

Bazzard’s (Anthony Connell) tune, “Never The Luck” won’t create ear worms for anyone, but, like any great performer, Connell examined the lyrics and determined what they really meant. Everything about his rendition was a master class in body movement and facial expression.

Jasper (John Murphy) displayed his singing chops at Rapunzel’s Prince in the recent “INTO THE WOODS”. He goes one better in this production with “Jasper’s Confession”. The man can hold a note as long as M&T bank!

Julia Kershetsky (dual personalities of Drood and Alice Nutting) played in drag half the time. This allowed Composer Holmes to write a love song sung by a second soprano, Rosa Bud (Nina Gold). “Perfect Strangers” was yet another first on the Candlelight stage in its 50+ years. Both were engaged and charismatic.

Ed Emmi (Rev. Crisparkle), a conflicted and self-righteous pastor, Shaun Yates (Durdles), not a more entertaining and inebriated gravedigger since they unearthed poor Yorick, Erin Quinn (the sultry and exotic Helena Landless) and the towering John Danley (a native of Ceylon with an inexplicable and untraceable accent, Neville Landless) stood out in their characterizations. Aisle Say voted for Rev Crisparkle to the murderer. Brother/sister Helana and Neville were voted “Perfect Strangers”, to the glee of the audience.

Director Reim has been the veteran Set Designer for years. Did he paint the proscenium all by his lonesome? It was long overdue. Beautiful work. The graveyard scene with the mausoleums was spectacular; realistic and eerie, especially with the special effects by Sound Engineer David Marshall.

Wigs, Hair and Makeup pro Clayton Stacey performed his normal excellent job. Resident photographer Tisa Della-Volpe captured the right moments to click.

Food wise, the salmon was tasty. Award winning epicurean potato connoisseur, Aisle Say, humbly suggests a minimum 5% increase of garlic in the mashed potatoes. It would be culinary best practices and travel ever pleasingly down the gullet.

NOTE: Aisle Say a/k/a Greer Firestone, was awarded two 1st Place Awards from the DE Press Association: 1) a review of INTO THE WOODS 2) Historical novel ALEXEI and The Mad Monk RASPUTIN. Available on Amazon. Book signing at Huxley and Hiro, 419 Market St Wilmington on April 11 @7pm. All invited. Don’t need to buy the book.

Til April 21 Candlelight Theater Delaware – Dining and Entertainment Beyond Your Expectations (  302.474.2313

Next Up: MOON OVER BUFFALO  May 11 – June 16