BWW Review: Landless Theatre's THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD [SYMPHONIC METAL VERSION] is Original and Entertaining
After multiple Helen Hayes nominations for their 2015 production of SWEENEY TODD [PROG METAL VERSION], Landless Theatre Company is back with their second MetalTheatre adaptation: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD [SYMPHONIC METAL VERSION]. A captivating cast and three-piece rock orchestra guide us through the choose-your-own-adventure story with a blend of spot-on comedy and seamless rock arrangements.
The original 1985 musical is based on Charles Dickens' final, unfinished novel. In this 2018 production, as in the original musical, the audience votes on how the story will end in order to resolve the loose ends of the mystery. It's also meta: the actors play actors in the boisterous Music Hall Royale, and they create the "musicale" in Dickensian London. It sounds like a lot of gimmicks, once you add in the metal twist, but the quirks work together.
This DROOD boasts a solid ensemble of artists with both theatre and musical backgrounds, lending some rock-and-roll authenticity to the proceedings. Edwin Drood himself is played by Lily Hoy, the lead singer of a Maryland metal band. Drood is engaged to the innocently lovely Rosa Bud (wide-eyed Simone Lewis) and competes with villainous choirmaster John Jasper (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) and mysterious newcomer Neville Landless (Ben Ribler) for Rosa's affection. Rounding out the group is Melissa LaMartina, who delivers a silly, unplaceable accent as Helena Landless, and Ally Jenkins as the broadly funny Princess Puffer, who runs an opium den. Steve Wannall is Chairman William Cartwright, narrating the journey and trying to keep this bawdy bunch on track, with mixed results.
These, along with additional individuals, provide us with more than enough unusual characters to make up a satisfying game of Clue. Everyone has the means and the motive... In my particular experience, the unassuming Reverend Crisparkle (Tom Howley) was revealed to be the murderer.
As for the metal arrangements, I was concerned they might be ear-splitting or distracting. Upon hearing them, I found they were neither. For the most part, the nuanced synthesizer, guitar, and bass operate below the level of the vocals. If I hadn't known better, I would've thought DROOD was originally written as a rock musical. For instance, it's now clear that patter song "Both Sides of the Coin" has always needed intense guitar riffs. There were, however, some sound issues where the vocals were occasionally drowned out or the mix sounded murky and undefined. In a way, though, the imperfections accentuate the concert vibe. Even when every word isn't articulated, major plot points aren't lost.
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD [SYMPHONIC METAL VERSION] can be messy at times, and it won't be everyone's cup of tea (or laudanum-laced wine). But if you're a fan of pop-rock musicals and Dickensian atmospherics, or are looking for something different, this one's for you.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Landless Theatre's THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD [SYMPHONIC METAL VERSION] runs through April 29, 2018, at the Trinidad Theatre at the Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tickets can be purchased at www.landlesstheatre.com.
Photo: From left, Melissa LaMartina as Helena Landless and Simone Lewis as Rosa Bud; photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.