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Book, Music & Lyrics by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
Who the Dickens did the deed? You decide!
A non-stop ride of mystery, murder, and musical delight! Based on Charles Dickens’ final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is filled with clues, red herrings, villainy, and debauchery. Everyone on stage is a suspect – and it’s up to you to decide how this mystery ends!
Hot off Broadway, this Tony Award-winning theatrical genius is led by director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford (Midsummer (a play with songs)), who reunites with the artistic team that brought Grease and Mamma Mia to the Wellington stage. The cast includes beloved actor of stage, screen and radio, Lloyd Scott, and internationally renowned soprano, Barbara Graham (Christine, Phantom of the Opera). The Mystery of Edwin Drood boasts spectacular big dance numbers, rousing showtunes, stunning theatrics, magic, and illusions!
Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score
“One of the most inventive, inspired and rousing musicals ever devised.”—AM New York
“Infectious fun!”—Time Out New York
“Bawdy fun!”—Associated Press
“Sheer fun!”—The Wall Street Journal
Mr William Cartwright, Chairman: Gavin Rutherford
Miss Alice Nutting (playing Edwin Drood & Dick Datchery): Awhimai Fraser
Miss Deirdre Peregrin (playing Rosa Bud): Barbara Graham
Mr Clive Paget (playing John Jasper): Jack Buchannan
Miss Angela Prysock (playing the Princess Puffer): Jude Gibson
Mr Cedric Moncrieffe (playing The Reverend Crisparkle): Lloyd Scott
Mr Victor Grinstead (playing Neville Landless): Ben Paterson
Miss Janet Conover (playing Helena Landless): Flora Lloyd
Mr Phillip Bax (playing Bazzard & the Waiter): Alan Palmer
Mr Nick Cricker (playing Durdles): Andy Gartrell
Master Nick Cricker (playing the Deputy): Frankie Curd
Alexandra Taylor, Auburn Crombie, Brontë Fitzgibbon, Charli Gartrell, Charlotte Tausilia, Ella Monnery, Gemma Hughes, Georgie Sullivan, Hamiora Tuari, Hannah McMillan, India Loveday, (Horris) Jonathan Harris, Juliane Bush, (Flo) Kaylee Morrison; Konrad Makisi, Rebecca Tate, Ruairi Costelloe, Taylor Salton, Vanessa Immink, Wiremu Waretine
Set/ Costume design: Ian Harman
Lighting Design: Lisa Maule
Sound design/operator: Blair Godby
Sound design/operator: Oliver Buckley
Lighting Operator: Deb McGuire
Stage Manager: Eric Gardiner
Whitireia Musical Theatre course coordinator: Amy Tait
Publicity: Nell Williams
Publicity intern: Ben Emerson
A WILD, FUNNY AND FRIVOLOUS SPECTACLE
Reviewed by Jonathan Kingston-Smith and Pepe Becker, 29 Mar 2015
There are, in fact, many mysteries in this tale of Edwin Drood and the cast of lechers, ‘exotics’, opium-dealers, Classical singers, clergymen and general miscreants that surround ‘him’. Not least of all is the one intrinsic to the work itself. This musical is based upon Charles Dickens’ final novel. Unfortunately Dickens did something really inconvenient for literary history before he set pen to paper on the final pages of this manuscript. He died. And left not a clue as to how the thing was to end – not even notes scribbled in a margins or scrawled on bits of paper.
Well, worry not, because the man who asked us all, through the medium of a relentlessly popular song, if we liked Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain – Rupert Holmes – also transformed this incomplete novel into a boisterous, bold and thoroughly self-aware Victorian-style music hall romp, with an ingenious means of determining what that final reveal might have been. So… expect a little audience participation, but not so much that you need baulk at it, if that’s not your thing.
Our guide through the evening’s festivities is the magnificent Chairman of the Music Hall Royale – part master of ceremonies, part thespot (it’s one of my theatre companion’s portmanteau words that I promised myself I would try to smuggle into public lexicon) – Gavin Rutherford. His previous tenure as a pantomime dame serves him well as he displays an easy camaraderie with the audience and adroitly negotiates his consistently involved and involving expository role. In a charming meta-twist he takes the stage himself after one of the actors proves to be… ahem, ‘indisposed’.
It is via Rutherford that we are ushered into this tangled, fangled and mangled world: a play cocooned within a play, where the actors all play actors playing various characters, with all the ridiculousness that implies. Thus we are treated to bouts of extravagant coarse acting, diva storm-outs and an endlessly amusing gag wherein the actor is introduced midway through their character’s opening scene, leading them to break continuity and mug charmingly at the audience, before resuming their dramatic moment as if nothing had occurred. The fourth wall isn’t so much broken as exploded.
The story itself…
Edwin Drood is a young man – played with spirited androgyny and brashness by Awhimai Fraser (as legendary trouser-role actress Alice Nutting) – betrothed from childhood to the lovely Rosa Bud (a vocally-opulent and delightful performance from Barbara Graham, as Deidre Peregrine). Alas, Rosa Bud has also become a romantic target for the skin-quiveringly slimy John Jasper, her musical instructor (played by the affable and swoonsome Clive Paget, who in turn is played by Jack Buchanan). His intentions for her are quite unwholesome as depicted in a truly hilarious scene wherein Bud is forced to deliver, with increasing discomfort, a sexually-explicit (well, by Victorian standards) aria whilst he accompanies her on piano (cleverly mimed to Michael Nicholas Williams’ – more about him later – virtuosic playing).
Along the way Drood’s casual racism arouses the ire of the tempestuous Landless twins, Neville and Helena – displaced Ceylonese siblings played with grand dramatic gestures and ‘geographically untraceable’ accents by decidedly non-Ceylonese actors Victor Grinstead and Janet Conover (played in turn by Ben Paterson and Flora Lloyd).
Thus the motives pile up, with Rutherford’s Chairman always quick to emphasise anything of potential narrative relevance. And so, when Drood finally disappears late in the first half, leaving only a tattered and blood-smudged coat, well… we have some difficult choices to make.
Along the way we are also introduced to the opium-dealing Madame of the underworld: Princess Puffer (the emotionally expressive Jude Gibson as Angela Prysock); the amiable and eternally frustrated Phillip Bax (played by Alan Palmer), a man condemned to one-line roles and unnamed characters when he really longs to be a writer and lead; and the comedic duo of Nick Cricker and his ambiguously-aged son Nicky Cricker (Andy Gartell and Frankie Curd respectively) as the boundlessly irritating Durdles and his deputy.
Then there’s the full chorus of supporting actors, incompetent stage-hands, dancers and women of financially-negotiable virtue. And a dog.
Yet none of this is the show’s main hook. That comes in the form of a few deliberations that we, as the audience, are asked to make part-way into the second half. You see, there are some questions to be answered, questions that Dickens never settled himself. This show has multiple, carefully-rehearsed endings, all waiting to be determined by the choices we make. Even then, there are twists…
Oh yeah, and there’s singing and dancing too.
The musical numbers are well-written pieces, bracingly performed by the cast to the accompaniment of the afore-mentioned and astonishing Michael Nicholas Williams (who does with a piano what few productions could accomplish with an orchestra). The lyrics are excellent and sharply-written. Three pieces particularly snagged my ears, two of them performed by Jude Gibson: the viciously hilarious ‘Wages of Sin’ which has something of a whiff of Brecht and Weill in its satirical depiction of the scabrous urban underbelly (Gibson connects superbly with the audience throughout this piece), and her haunting and discomforting ‘Garden Path to Hell’. The third standout song is ‘Both Sides of the Coin’ (performed by Rutherford and Buchanan) with its witty, rhythmic patter delivered at lightning-strike speeds to the dazed wonderment of the audience.
The majority of the cast sing and perform well – Gavin Rutherford, Jack Buchanan, Jude Gibson and Flora Lloyd are especially fine. Barbara Graham is the most vocally superb among the cast with her rich, classically-trained notes, wise vocal interpretations and deft vibrato. Her operatic delivery offers a welcome respite from the Broadway-style belting that the rest of the cast engage in.
To be fair, my tolerance for musical hall singing has its limitations. For all that she inhabits the boyish physicality and vigour of the role of Drood well, Awhimai Fraser demonstrates a degree of uncertainty in her passaggio which results in her final grand note being delivered in a slightly-strained chest voice (and a little flat) when an integration of both her head and chest voice would have served her better. Her vowels are also a trifle constricted – perhaps as a result of carrying her character’s accent across into her singing.
Unfortunately, much of the chorus work suffers from a loss of clarity, whether it is due to the writing, the often-speedy delivery, the acoustic or the arrangement. It means that the majority of the lyrics are lost in a blur of massed voices.
Ian Harman’s production design is stunning, with a deceptively-simple and intriguing set that slyly subverts the space, inventive use of stage effects (including shadow-play and movable door frames) and sublimely expressive lighting. The costuming is extensive and beautifully-rendered, with even the clothing worn by the thirty-odd members of the chorus showing imagination and a tremendous amount of effort.
The combination of established, professional actors with emerging talents from the Whitireia Performing Arts department is an inspired and hugely successful one, lending the production intense vitality. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford should be highly commended for this decision and for her direction of the show in its entirety. It is a finely-wrought and polished production, a piece that seems to function seamlessly despite its striking scale.
In spite of its few flaws (and the fact that, at over two hours long, it’s an exhausting watch; I can only guess at how hard it must be to perform) and its consistent lack of subtlety, what the dickens. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a wild, funny and frivolous spectacle. It is a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.