The third show of River Rep's 18th season is "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", the rollicking musical-mystery by Rupert Holmes which is based on Charles Dickens unfinished novel. The show opened on Broadway on December 2, 1985 and ran for 608 performances, winning 3 Tony Awards for Rupert Holmes.This show will remind you of "My Fair Lady", "Sweeney Todd" and "Phantom of the Opera" with its score. In Holmes' version the audience decides the ending to the show, who killed Drood or is he really dead? "Drood" is a play within a play about an acting troupe from the Music Hall Royale who come for the summer season to play the Prince Albert Pavilion. The darker side of the plot involves the "disappearance" of a young architect, Edwin Drood after a Christmas Eve night of festivities. The energetic and talented cast under the direction of Julia Kiley and the music direction of James Bassi give their audiences a topnotch Broadway show in this gorgeous historic theatre in Ivoryton, CT, earning them a thunderous ovation at the close of the show, making it a must see theatrical event of this summer season.
Julia has her cast enter from every place in the theatre to explain to the audience what will be taking place. After they finishing thier tale to the crowd they run up on stage to join the leading actor/narrator called the Chairman in the rousing opening number called "There You Are". The powerful voices of the cast are astounding and their harmonic blend is perfect. Julia casts all the roles in the show beautifully, creating many picture postcard moments from scene to scene as well as keeping the action flowing along. Stage manager Deb Freeman and her crew do a splendid job moving set pieces on and off while production manager, Arthur Pignataro makes sure everything is fine tuned and set for opening night. James plays the keyboards and conducts his fellow 3 piece combo, getting a wonderful musical sound in all the numbers. He also taught the vocalists their intricate numbers including counterpoint songs, a patter number that moves quicker than the speed of light, duets and a lovely quartet. The choreographer, Billy Johnstone does an outstanding job with the ensemble which includes a kickline, soft shoe, an Arabian dance and an erotic, seductive dance number in an opium den plus several other breathtaking dances, too. The multitude of costumes for this show are by Jennie Cleaver while the set design is by Sebastien Grouard and the lighting design by Marcus Abbot.
Leading this talented group is Evan Thompson as the Chairman. His dynamic performance grabs you from start to finish as he narrates each scene of the show,delivering a massive amount of dialogue while performing in many of them. Evan's powerful voice rings out in the opening "There You Are", the patter song called "Both Sides of the Coin" with John Jasper and the dancing number, "Off to the Races" with Durdles and Deputy. He reels the audience into the Music Hall type of show, winking, waving his hand and tipping his hat with a gleeful abandon. Playing Edwin Drood and the actress who portrays him is Jenn Thompson, Evan's real life daughter. While she is disguised as a man, she delivers many songs including a touching ballad called "Perfect Strangers" and the confrontation number at the Christmas Eve party called "No Good Can Come from Bad. Jenn's most impressive and powerful number is "The Writing on the Wall" where she makes a revelation to everyone. We get to see Jenn as a gorgeous woman in the show when she appears in a stunning red dress in a couple of scenes. Playing Drood's lady love, Rosa Bud is Natasha Harper, a lovely raven haired beauty with a glorious soprano voice which soars off the scale in "Moonfall" and "The Name of Love". She does a wonderful job as the sweet ingenue. Drood and Rosa were matched together by their deceased fathers years ago and his choirmaster, Uncle John Jasper has designs on Rosa. Blond haired, New York actor, Edwin Cahill plays the sinister, smarmy voice teacher to the hilt while clad in a black tuxedo and cape.(He reminds you of Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do Right cartoon.) He oozes charm to try to capture her heart while he takes opium mixed in wine at Princess Puffer's Opium Den.The erotic dance number shows his descent into drug addiction. (The 3 dancers are excellently portrayed by Sheri Norige, Abby Parker and Ralph Colon) Edwin's tenor voice is superb in his many numbers including "A Man Could Be Mad", "The Name of Love" and "Moonfall". His most impressive number is "Jasper's Confession" where his voice fulls the theatre with its majestic sound. The patter song with Evan is another gem with their energetic rendition.
A Dickens novel contained many characters and this show is no different. Playing the opium den owner, Puffer is Joan Shepard, Evan's real life wife. Her character reminds you of Mrs. Lovett from "Sweeney Todd". She sings about the "The Wages of Sin" and "The Garden Path to Hell". Joan got a chance to sing a duet with her son, Owen called "Perfect Stranges" when the audience voted them to be the show's love interest. Joan is a firecracker on the stage and her character will keep you in stiches with her antics. Owen Thompson plays the hunchback, Durdles,cemetary keeper who's eyepatch keeps changing eyes all the time. He, his father, Evan and Ralph as Deputy lead the rousing chorus number, "Off to the Races". Ralph is very funny as the stone throwing pal of Durdles. He is an excellent dancer and gets to strut his stuff in several numbers. The town minister is played by R. Bruce Connelly. He is a hoot as Reverand Crisparkle. Bruce's solo number in the show sparkled and he delivers the goods in his role. His adopted refugeesNeville and Helena Landless from overseas are played by Corey Johnson and Jean Tafler. Their accents are hilarious and their funny duet and dance number is called "Ceylon" where they sing about the beauty of their country while the chorus does a soft shoe during it. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Warren Kelley as Bazzard the unfortunate person who never gets picked to play a role in this show. His song called "Never The Luck" is a hoot and it led him to be voted to finally get a part in the second act to do a song called "Out on a Limerick" to explain why he wants to find the killer. ( This role shows Warren can handle singing, dancing and comedy as well as he handled the dramatic one in "Chapter Two" earlier this season.) There are many antics and twist and turns in this show they I can't give away in this review. Kudos to everyone who made this show a success both onstage and off. So for everyone who wants to see a musical, mystery romp this summer, be sure to catch this show before it's too late. Tell them Tony sent you.