BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre's Riotous THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD

If you're looking at the program for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, see the name Rupert Holmes (book, music, and lyrics) and are instantly reminded of the fact he wrote and sang the number one hit "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", you'll probably be a bit surprised at the production that you're about to watch. But, I guarantee you it will be a very pleasant one, because Holmes takes the tradition of circa 1890's English Music Hall and uses it in delightfully imaginative fashion to craft a vehicle for the unfinished last work of classic author Charles Dickens. It's a kind of play within a play, and in the cozy confines of the Tower Grove Abbey, it's an absolutely perfect fit. It brings the performers right into your lap, and it's so much fun that you can't help but get completely caught up in the merriment. This lively production by Stray Dog Theatre is sure to please, so get your tickets while you can!

Holmes is actually quite a prolific writer and songwriter, and a cursory glance at his career might even provide you with a few surprises (I hadn't realized he'd written material for the 1976 A Star is Born remake). Here he takes the story by Dickens and brings it to life with all the fun one would expect from the recreation of a music hall performance of the work. The actors are essentially playing actors who are playing parts in the show, and this duality allows for a great deal of comic relief. The plot itself is truncated, Dickens passed away before completing the book, but follows the disappearance of the young Edwin Drood, who was engaged to the lovely Rosa Bud when he suddenly vanished. There are obvious suspects, and maybe a few red herrings, but the real treat is that the audience gets to choose the supposed murderer who disposed of the lad.

Gerry Love guides us through the action as the Chairman, William Cartwright. Love seems to be having a ball in the role, and at one point even undertakes another part when an actor is unable to perform. Michael Juncal brings plenty of sass and attitude to his part as the Stage Manager, while Zachary Stefaniak is properly villainous as John Jasper, the person with the most to gain from Drood's sudden "departure". Heather Matthews, working as male impersonator Alice Nutting, is sharp and temperamental as Drood, and Eileen Engel makes a fetching Rosa Budd, while displaying a very fine vocal range.

Kimberly Still is a riot as Helena Landless, and Kelvin Urday is equally over the top as the hot-headed Neville Landless. Patrick Kelly does nice work as Reverend Crisparkle, and Lavonne Byers is excellent as The Princess Puffer, who provides her clientele with various opiate diversions. Eric Woelbling amuses as the drunken Durdles, and Kevin Connelly is good as his assistant Deputy. Michael Wells stuns in the under-appreciated roles of Waiter/Bazzard, showcasing a marvelous voice when least expected. Sara Rae Womack, Angela Bubash, Kevin O'Brien, Mike Hodges, Michael Baird, Stefanie Kluba, and Brenda Ochs provide an enthusiastic presence as the ensemble.

Justin Been's keen direction keeps the laughs and action moving along at a good clip, which is nice since the show is fairly long and runs (with intermission) about three hours. But, it's three hours of your time you'll thoroughly enjoy! Rob Lippert's terrific scenic design provides plenty of levels, as well as an extension of the stage that takes the action right into the audience. Tyler Duenow's lighting is also excellent, and with all the frenetic antics presented, never allows the audience to lose focus. Eileen Engel's costumes conjure up the era nicely, and so does Zachary Stefaniak's choreography, which is energetically performed. Chris Petersen conducts the fine musical ensemble that consists of Steve Frisbee, A.J. Lane, Bob McMahon, Will Reichert, Harrison Rich, and M. Joshua Ryan.

Don't miss this wonderful production by Stray Dog Theatre. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is simply a blast! It continues at the Tower Grove Abbey through April 18, 2015.

Photo Credit: John Lamb

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From This Author Chris Gibson

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