BWW Review: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Guild Hall Players
Charles Dickens was a literary author we all encountered and studied in formal educational settings. Some may remember when his father was in imprisoned, Dickens knew that he needed to make a living wage and support himself, losing quality education himself. At the age of 15, he began working for an attorney and studied shorthand in the evening which lead to a job as a journalist launching his writing career. From there he wrote several short stories and novels like A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, some becoming stage plays and musicals. His final and greatest novel ultimately turned musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is a prime example of such a case. The show was presented by Guild Hall Players from August 1st through the 4th at St. James Episcopal Church.
The cast was comprised of around seventeen local performers with most having double duty portraying both characters and players. Under the director of Phil Speary, the audience even got involved having the chance to vote for the murderer night after night. While singing showed no signs of weakness from the solos and ensemble numbers, presentation of style was lack luster making the pace, scene transitions, and blocking a bit stagnant crafting for a two hour and fifty-minute show including a ten-minute intermission. What saved the production, however, was individuals' commitment to character and fun audience interaction throughout.
There were moments where crossing center stage was overdone multiple times. Often, there would be an actor stage left or right and the blocking they executed was to basically switch sides of the stage. Due to the size of the proscenium, there was also a lot of 'straight line acting' where most of the ensemble members were in a bee line, particularly in instances on the main stage, not to be confused with the thrust stage which was built out into the house. It would have been nice if performers commanded the stage more and used it appropriately, creating levels, dimension, and additional storytelling energy needed for what should have been a fast-paced murder mystery. Lastly, there was a lot of park and bark delivery of songs especially during times of exciting music which lead to most actors simply standing still. Someone who had no trouble delivering their material was Deanne Zogleman (The Princess Puffer), director of music at Newman University. Her songs "The Wages of Sin" and "The Garden Path to Hell" and "Puffer's Revelation" were sung with good characterization, phrasing and breath control. Another charmer was John Lloyd Stafford III as Bazzard. Stafford had good, natural beats with his lines. He had a great one at the end of the first act stating 'the goose is cooked' at dinner while foreshadowing to a mysterious murder. Helena Landless played by Julia Miller had a charming Indian accent as well. In addition to a well-cast bunch was fresh face to Wichita audiences Richard Avelar making his Guild Hall Players debut. While there is great, infinite potential in Avelar, there are some simple fixes needed to be made to help enhance and prolong his performing career. Investing in solid character shoes would be wise; a solid and sturdy all black pair perhaps. Also, it is worth reminding Avelar to not take lines too seriously. He needed to find moments on stage when to be literal and other times to be liberal. For example, Avelar at the top of show had lyrics 'Lady down in front' when the female audience member he was indicating was in the back of the auditorium. Avelar's singing voice is beautiful in quality but he did have a tendency to be gruff leading to some vocal strain. His strongest delivery of the night was the patter song with Carlson, giving Lin Manuel Miranda a run for his money. Speaking of Carlson, though, he understood the amount of energy needed for the show. His final monologue in act two was gut wrenching and thrilling to listen to. The only contraption I caught in his pacing was that the audience clapped twice for the start of the show for act two when it could easily been done with one round of applause while plugging along with pace to keep hold of their undivided attention.
Choreography was also done by Zogleman showcasing wonderful talents from the ensemble including Allison Lamm's flexibility. Tony Applegate designed lighting making scary scenes even spookier with solid colored gels on the actors for murder scenes. Sound by Randy Harrison made all actors and sound cues able to be heard plus with great diction from the actors, nothing was missed. Finally, costumes by Christy Railsback were period appropriate and appeared to fit the performers correctly for a clean, polished appearance. With religious themes of Lazarus being raised from the dead, the show itself was a suitable selection for the church. The highlight of the night was when the audience voted for stage lovers Helena Landless and Durdles pairing them up as the most unlikely romantic pair.
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