The Mystery of Edwin Drood: A Musical

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This past Sunday afternoon on April 13th, I had the pleasure of seeing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a musical presented by Bucknell’s Department of Theater and Dance. With book, music, and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, this musical is based off of the unfinished mystery novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, written by Charles Dickens. Upon his death in June of 1870, Dickens left behind the unfinished and unsolved mystery of Drood, leaving the identity of the murderer up to his readers’ imaginations. The original mystery had been written and published in episodic installments, and when Dickens suddenly passed from a stroke that year, he abandoned The Mystery of Edwin Drood to become not only a literary curiosity, but also an interactive and unpredictable musical. It was an immense pleasure to watch the very talented members of the Bucknell Department of Theater and Dance bring this production to life – a show filled with countless laughs, twists, and sudden bursts of musicality, The Mystery of Edwin Drood left no audience member unsatisfied.

 

Although Dickens’ original work was rather bleak, Holmes’ musical rendition of it was much more comical and lively in comparison. He created a “show-within-a-show,” in which the cast plays music hall performers who are performing as the Dickens’ characters. In developing such a show, Holmes was able to incorporate an air of lighthearted comedy and some additional musical numbers that existed outside of the original plot. Perhaps Holmes’ most brilliant move in writing this musical was allowing the audience to ultimately determine the ending by voting on three mysteries at a break in the show: who killed Drood (if he was killed), the identity of Dick Datchery, and on which two characters will become romantically involved at the end.

 

Interestingly enough, the show began, before the show “actually” began. What I mean by this is that as soon as I took a seat in the Harvey Powers Theater, a woman by the name of Miss Angela Prysock, playing the character The Princess Puffer (Sheridan Gates ’14), approached me, encouraging me to vote for her as the murderer (as it will grant her more stage time). The other 6 suspects, including Mr. Clive Paget as John Jasper (Michael Strauss ’14), Miss Deirdre Peregrine as Rosa Bud (Emily Mack ‘16), Mr. Victor Grinstead as Neville Landless (Eric Gowat ’17), Miss Janet Conover as Helena Landless (Courtney Jonas ’17), Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe as The Reverend Mr. Crisparkle (Greg Wolf ’17), Mr. Phillip Bax as Bazzard (Rodney West ’17), and Mr. Nick Cricker as Durdles (Logan Kauffeld ’15) also moved around the audience before the start of the show, shedding light on the history of the production following Dickens’ demise and asking to be named the murderer, once the time to vote came. As the mystery is about to unfold, the cast members perform the grand opening number, “There You Are,” from different locations all around the theater. “There You Are” set the bar high for the rest of the musical, the students’ voices aligned in perfect harmony, as did their charisma and theatrical dance moves – it was clear that this was a well-rehearsed and immensely talented cast, ready to show the audience everything that they’ve worked for these past few months. Following the spectacular number, The Chairman, a kind Master of Ceremonies (Gabe Calleja ’16), advises the audience that this is no normal production, inviting us to be as “vulgar and uncivilized as legally possible.” Before The Mystery of Edwin Drood finally kicks off, we also meet the Stage Manager, Miss J. Throttle (Valentina Blando ’14), who informs us that she will be tallying the votes later in the show. And…action!

 

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The first act opens with the introduction of John Jasper and his dramatic, tormented performance of “A Man Could Go Quite Mad.” Next enter Edwin Drood, played by Miss Alice Nutting (Emily Hooper, ’14), who mentions his upcoming arranged marriage with Rosa Bud. The two engage in a lighthearted performance of “Two Kinsmen,” that is tinted with irony. As the act continues, we meet Drood’s fiancé, Rosa Bud, who it appears Jasper, also her music instructor, is madly in love with. As she beautifully sings the seductive song he has composed for her, “Moonfall,” in the presence of Neville and Helena Landless, she suddenly faints, unable to bear the suggestive lyrics. We then meet the Princess Puffer, the head of a prostitution opium den, of which Jasper is a customer. Inside of the opium den, we witness the dark and hazy dreams of Jasper, displayed as an intricate dance number atop the canopy bed. After a scene switch, we witness gravedigger Durdles and his deputy discuss the grand tomb for the wife of Mayor Thomas Sapsea. In a brief and humorous break from the plot, we discover that the actor playing the role of the mayor is too drunk to perform, so the Chairman himself will take on the role. This is just one example of Holmes’ clever lightening of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Another key example of this is the finale number for Act I, “Off to the Races,” performed by the members of the theater company as themselves. Leading up to this finale, we observe a contentious Christmas dinner at Jasper’s home. In a heated performance of “No Good Can Come From Bad,” rivalries between Jasper, Neville, and Drood are revealed, tainted with dark motivations and suspenseful actions. The next day Drood is dead, and we are left with a handful of suspects, including the newly introduced Phillip Bax as Bazzard who briefly but grandly performs “Never the Luck.” The Mystery of Edwin Drood takes break here, for the finale performance of “Off to the Races” and an intermission.

 

Act II opens with Edwin Drood still missing, and Princess Puffer along with stranger Dick Datchery on stage to investigate the murder. In the midst of their search, Puffer meets Rosa Bud and joins the rest of the cast in performing “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.” However, the song comes to an abrupt halt, as up to this point is all Dickens had written before his death. This is where the audience comes into play. The first thing we are left to determine is whether or not Drood is actually dead. It turns out that Alice Nutting (actress playing Drood) has been wearing the Datchery costume in order to fulfill her contract to appear in two acts of the play – so, are Drood and Datchery the same person? The cast unanimously votes that Drood is dead. Consequently, Nutting storms offstage, angrily claiming that the cast is dismissing her solely out of jealousy. The audience, via applause, chooses a new actor to play Datchery, who then leaves stage for a costume change. Next up, who is the murderer? The Chairman runs through the seven suspects and their respective motives. As the votes are tallied, a series of events ensue including Puffer’s confession that she was once Rosa’s nanny and Datchery (as selected by the audience) promptly accusing Jasper of being the murderer. Jasper admits to strangling his nephew in a dramatic number, “Jasper’s Confession.” Durdles, however, disagrees, claiming he witnessed the crime and knows whom the murderer truly is. According to the audience’s vote, the finger is pointed at one of the remaining subjects. In the case of Sunday’s Matinée, Bazzard was the murderer! Bazzard confesses that he murders Drood in attempt to boost his role in the show, and jumps into a grand reprise of “A Man Could Go Quite Mad” and “Never the Luck.” Freshman Rodney West truly shined here, demonstrating both his extensive vocal and theatrical capabilities. Finally, a happy ending is needed, and the Chairman asks the audience to choose two lovers who then declare their love, and perform a reprise of “Perfect Strangers.” The show isn’t over quite yet, however. A strange noise is heard, and an alarmingly alive Edwin Drood appears, prepared to tell everyone what truly happened on the night of his disappearance with the number “The Writing on the Wall.” The Mystery of Edwin Drood is solved, and the fabulous company members take their bows in coordination with a reprise of “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.”

 

Bucknell University’s Department of Theater and Dance proved itself in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. An incredible production from start to finish, we have nothing but praise for the 2014 musical. We cannot forget to mention, of course, the absolutely pristine set as well as the brilliant pit orchestra, made up of both student and professional musicians.

 

Hats off and a huge congratulations to Director Gary Grant, Choreographer Dustyn Martincich, Stage Manager Kaitlin Marsh ’14, and the entire cast and crew of The Mystery of Edwin Drood!