THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD: A Different Ending Every Night!
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834
Performances: November 16 – December 28, 2019
Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $35 Seniors, Military & Students; $18 Dinner
Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com
Swift Creek Mill Theatre opened the 2019-2020 season with Jeffrey Hatcher’s unconventional Sherlock Holmes mystery, Holmes and Watson (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/09/21/holmes-and-watson-its-not-what-you-think/) and now they’re presenting another non-traditional mystery, Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is based on the unfinished last novel of Charles Dickens, who died of a stroke while working on the book. Hatcher, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics (now there’s an accomplishment you don’t see every day), infused Dickens’ story with humor by setting it as a play within a play, performed by the members of the Music Hall Royale, a Victorian music hall.
The cast – actual and fictitious – is rowdy and bawdy. They start out mingling in the audience, telling cheesy jokes, sitting next to audience members, and testing the waters with double entendre. The huge cast – nearly twenty – often spills over the edges of the relatively small stage, and director Tom Width, who clearly enjoys this unbridled parody, uses this to heighten the comic effect and interactive nature of the show.
There are some strong voices, particularly Michael Gray as the protagonist John Jasper, and Paige Reisenfeld as the romantic interest, Rosa Bud. Ian Page, an antagonist, uses a high-stepping walk and simmering facial expressions to great comic effect. The “Chairman” or Master of Ceremonies, Richard Travis, is appropriately blundering and bombastic by turn and keeps things rolling along with the help of his gavel-wielding stagehand, Alvan Bolling, II.
The title role of Edwin Drood is played by Alice Nutting – a character who is a male impersonator (yes, that was a thing in Victorian theater) – who is in turn portrayed by actor Rachel Marrs.
Donna Marie Miller, in her first Swift Creek show, is also quite funny; her character even makes fun of her unidentifiable accent, and Jacqueline O’Connor was fascinating as her character, a drug-dealing prostitute, ranged from bawdy to tender when she reminisced about being leading lady Rosa Bud’s former nanny, then ended up being paired with the very amusing drunken sexton Michael McMullen in an engineered happy ending. They were paired by audience applause!
As Act 2 winds down – it actually sort of stumbles to a false end due to the death of its author – the audience is called on to vote for the murderer of Edwin Drood, who disappeared one night never to be seen or heard from, for some six months! The audience vote determines who sings the final two songs (not including the finale) and how the final scene ends.
In addition to directing, Tom Width also did the scenic design, a replica of a Victorian music hall stage embellished with lighting by Joe Doran, lively choreography by Alissa Pagnotti, and some lovely period costumes by Maura Lynch Cravey. Musical director Gabrielle Maes kept things moving along, but all too frequently the music was too loud, overpowering the vocals, to the point where an occasional word and even entire phrases got swallowed up. At least two people who were sitting behind me on the right hand side moved to empty center seats during intermission, hoping to balance the uneven sound. I didn’t get a chance to ask later if it had made a difference.
Ultimately, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is lite entertainment (yes, I meant to spell it that way); it amuses without pushing a message or focusing on a moral or worries about being politically correct or any of that. There’s a low-key holiday factor, with a Christmas tree downstage right, a few wreaths and an un-stressed mention of Christmas by one or more of the characters.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill Photography