Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

If silliness can be an art form--and I believe it can--then The Mystery of Edwin Drood is an artistic triumph. From the pre-show call-and-response to the audience-chosen denouement, this musical play-within-a-play version of Dickens' unfinished novel is delightful. 
Will Chase, Stephanie J. Block
Photo: Joan Marcus
It's 1895 London. Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud are engaged to be married, but is their romance what it seems? Edwin's uncle Jack is a respected choirmaster, but is he what he seems? And what about the opium dealer Princess Puffer? The Reverend Crisparkle? The orphaned Landless twins? What exactly is going on here?

Because Dickens died before finishing the book, that last question is unanswerable. Nevertheless, with the audience's help, The Mystery of Edwin Drood answers it, while also providing ear-pleasing melodies, wonderful performances, dreadful puns, intrigue and disaster, and a fabulous kick line. The cast is game and energetic, and their clear love of the show is contagious. Stephanie J. Block does well by her various roles and nails her 11:00 number. Jessie Mueller and Andy Karl are polished, elegant, and sly as the Landless twins. Peter Benson's sheer likeability is equaled only by his talent. Will Chase and Betsy Wolfe are both a tad too hammy for my taste (and that's saying something in this ham-filled show) but effective nevertheless. Chita Rivera was out, and while Alison Cimmet lacks star power--and is too young for the role--she pulled it off with flair. By the time she sang "The Garden Path to Hell," the audience had forgiven her for not being Chita.

Another of Drood's many delights is the breathtaking scenery. From street scenes to parlors to a graveyard, the audience is presented with a luscious tour of late-19th-century London. Every time a curtain goes up, the audience is given another visual treat. I imagine (and hope!) that designer Anna Louizos has a Tony in her future.

One criticism must be voiced: at least 50% of the lyrics are indecipherable as sung. When I saw Drood at its first preview, 80% of the lyrics were indecipherable, so I guess this is progress. And, amazingly enough, the show survives this major flaw. But I certainly expect better of a Broadway show.

(press ticket; third row on the aisle)

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