Background: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (the musical) is based on Charles Dickens’ final novel, which was unfinished at the time of his death in 1870. Ironically, his final novel was a murder mystery and the murderer had not yet been named by Dickens; hence, there was a lot of conjecture in the literary community as to whom Dickens meant the murderer to be. Translate an unfinished murder mystery to the Broadway stage and what do you get? A musical with many possible endings to be decided by the audience! What fun for both the audience and the actors, who might never have to perform the exact same show eight times per week.
The Show: The Mystery of Edwin Drood is told as a play within a play or a story within a story. The actual mystery that is Charles Dickens’ book is the inner story with the outer story portraying a group of actors who are putting on a play called The Mystery of Edwin Drood for the present audience. This also allows the audience to be informed of the book’s background and Dickens’ unexpected death.
John Jasper is secretly infatuated with his young, beautiful student, Rosa Bud, but his feelings are complicated by her betrothal to Jasper’s nephew, Edwin Drood. Jasper undoubtedly harbors anger toward his orphan nephew, while Rosa is terrified of her music teacher and yearns to be done with him. Further complicating the plot, Reverend Crisparkle arrives with newly orphaned siblings, Neville and Helena Landless, and arranges for Helena to stay with Rosa at The Nun’s House, while Neville (who is known to have a dangerous past) will be Crisparkle’s apprentice. Neville meets Rosa and is immediately taken with her. At this point, Jasper commits several suspicious acts that suggest he has a sinister plan up his sleeve. Drood and Rosa cancel their engagement and join the other characters at Jasper’s home for Christmas dinner. The next day, Drood is discovered to be missing, the victim of foul play.
Act II begins six months later with the introduction of Dick Datchery, a detective who is investigating the disappearance of Edwin Drood. His identity is unknown, but is likely one of the known characters in disguise.
Then, the music stops short and..... “Ladies and Gentlemen, it was at this point in our story that Charles Dickens laid down his pen forever”...
And the remainder of the story is decided by the audience. The audience votes on three points: the identity of the detective AKA Dick Datchery, the identity of the murderer, and the lovers. After the identities of the detective and murderer are determined, the actors return to the stage and act out the winning scenario. There must be seven or eight different endings (or more?).
You may be wondering how this particular show ended. Our detective was the Deputy, the murderer was Rosa Bud, and our lovers were (siblings) Neville and Helena Landless. I do not want to divulge any more details about this particular ending, as I do not want to spoil it for future Drood audiences. Suffice it to say that the audience participation in the show was so much fun and the ending was surprising and satisfying.
Comments: This was such a fun and engaging afternoon of theatre. I felt like I was reading an Agatha Christie novel while playing a game of Clue. Was it Mr. Jasper with the opium in the cemetery? Great fun. The greatest fun was, of course, the audience participation and the anticipation of “whodunit”. I felt that the vote was legitimate- not rigged.
The cast of Drood is a very talented ensemble of actors. Each actor brought something quirky and mysterious to his or her character and appeared to be having a great time on stage. Between the Victorian sets and costumes and Studio 54‘s holiday decor, I really felt like I was transported to an English music hall in a different era.
Perhaps the most comedic part of the show was when Helena and Neville were voted to be “lovers” despite their characters being siblings! The ad-libbing of Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller had the audience in stitches, as they sang about incest. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard in a theatre.
I think Drood should have a lot of appeal to Broadway audiences and I would highly recommend it!
The Mystery of Edwin Drood opens on 11/13/12 and runs through 2/10/13 at Studio 54.