This seems to be the year for mystery musicals! Hartford Stage has offered “The Gentleman's Guide toLove and Murder” and the Goodspeed has revived “Something's Afoot.”
At Studio54, The Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting a rollicking revival of the very adult “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a musical suggested by the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. With Book, Music, Lyrics and Orchestrations all by English-born Rupert Holmes (really David Goldstein), in 1985 the original production began at Joe Papp's Shakespeare in the Park and moved successfully to Broadway, where it won all the top awards. The very talented Holmes is also responsible for one of the catchiest pop songs of the 80's: “The Escape or The Pina Colada Song” and the delightful AMC series “Remember WENN.”
Here, he has set the musical in an English Music Hall, a show within a show. The cast is enchanting, creating good strong characters. Directed cleverly by Scott Ellis, Choreographed sensually by Warren Carlyle, with Music Director Extraordinaire Paul Gemignani on hand, the cast is led by the avuncular Jim Norton, who plays the Chairman and Mr. William Cartwright. This charming gentleman moves from dramas to musicals with such great ease, it is always a pleasure to see him on stage. Chita Rivera, who will turn 79 on January 23, is also an amazement. As the Princess Puffer and Miss Angela Prysock, the Madame of a drug establishment, she sings and dances with skill and humor.
The plot centers around Edwin Drood who is also Miss Alice Nutting, the elegant Stephanie J. Block, who, although engaged to Rosa Budd/Miss Deirdre Peregrine, portrayed by the beautiful blond soprano Betsy Wolfe, disappears and is considered a murder victim. Since there is no body- and Dickens did not complete his story- he died at the age of 58 in June 1870-- Rupert Holmes decided that the audience could have a choice in each and every performance to choose the killer. There's lots of audience participation and good fun. Sets by Anna Louizos, Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by Brian Nason are all first rate.
If you were listening carefully, I said early on that “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is an adult musical. I think with the holidays coming, it is important to say this is not for the “Annie” crowd. Despite the upbeat tone, the themes focus on drug addiction and prostitution and double entendres. The music and words from “The Wages of Sin,” to “Never the Luck,” are pleasant and tell the story well.
“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” plays through February 10 at Studio 54.