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The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Satisfying, Enjoyable, First Rate (Review – Ann Arbor Civic Theatre) June 2, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Do you find reading this name to yourself is a little amusing? Bet your lips puckered without your realizing it. Try saying it aloud; bet you can’t without having a little fun with it. At A2CT’s hilarious production of  “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre this weekend, you can think it, say it, sing it, even stand up and shout it at the top of your lungs and you will be in good company. It is encouraged and it is satisfying, much like the performance that surrounds it. It’s no wonder this interactive Rupert Holmes musical won several Tony Awards. It’s that fun.

As the real story goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel written by Charles Dickens, who died before completing it, leaving the explanation of the title character’s mysterious disappearance unresolved. However, in the musical, we, the audience, get to affect the show’s ending by voting for the murderer (if, in fact, Drood was murdered) as well as decide the fate of other characters. Actors find out live if they have been selected and they have seconds to step into their role. There is a blackboard in the lobby after the show so that you can see the actual audience vote count as you leave.

The musical is a show within a show so every actor plays two roles: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is performed by various characters in a London music hall aptly named, Music Hall Royale, in 1892. The music hall story centers around Drood (flawlessly played in trousers by Vanessa Banister), who is affianced from birth to the lovely Rosa Bud (lovely in looks and voice Kimberly Elliott), who is the object of her opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper’s affection (brilliant Roy Sexton). But Jasper is not the only one who craves the affection of Miss Bud. Ceylonese refuges Neville Landless (Brandon Cave), twin sister Helena (Becca Nowak) and Reverend Crisparkle (Brodie Brockie) have desires of their own. The facial expressions these players give are worth the price of admission. Then there is the drunken cemetery watchman Durdles (Jimmy Dee Arnold) and Deputy (Peter Dannug) who know the whereabouts of the living and the dead. Opium mistress Princess Puffer (Alisa Mutchler Bauer) and Bazzard (Michael Cicirelli) add their own spice to the mystery. As mentioned earlier, all of these characters are portrayed by second-rate Music Hall Royale actors with their own agendas. If any of this is confusing, be assured the Chairman of the Music Hall Royale (Jared Hoffert) will guide you along and make sure you are properly sated in more ways than one [wink wink]. Hoffert is a wonderful master of ceremonies. The supporting cast is a hearty shephard’s pie of talent: Julia Fertel, Ashleigh Glass, Chris Joseph, Kari Nilsen, Sarah Sweeter, Kelly Wade, Heather Wing and Lisa Gavan (Stage Manager, both real and in the Royale), who make the evening that much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre is the perfect venue and the audience is greeted by the cast in character prior to curtain. Director and set designer Ron Baumanis, lighting designer Thom “TJ” Johnson, sound designer Bob Skon, Choreographer Debra Calabrese and costume designer Molly Bourneman complete the atmosphere so you really feel like you have been taken back in time — there are footlights, bustles, old-fashioned drops, and wonderfully zany mis-cues by the “Company” and crew. Great work. There is a surprise set piece build by Patrick Johnson and unique props by Aaron C. Wade. The orchestra, who also play a role within the story, is led by Daniel Bachelis and is first-rate. The show clocks in at 2:30 including the intermission and it is non-stop. There is also a special surprise guest appearance that had the audience laughing and applauding last night, and you’ll find it referenced in the program hidden in plain sight once you do.

Very Highly recommended.

—–Guest Review by Patricia Mazzola

Only three more chances to experience A2CT’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan, Michigan League Building, 911 Fletcher, Ann Arbor.  June 2-3 at 8 pm, June 4 at 2 pm. a2ct.org/tickets, or available at the door. Please note that tickets go off-sale online a few hours before showtime.

Hilarious and Exquisite “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at WMU (review) November 14, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Western Michigan University’s University Theatre presents a hilarious and exquisite evening of musical theater in their production of Rupert Holmes’ whodunnit “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” I saw it in Central park, the original on Broadway, and the revival just a few years ago — not to mention working on two separate productions of the show, and seeing probably ten regional or college productions over the years. In short, I know this show like the back of my hand.

Director/choreographer Jay Berkow and his student actors/technicians choose to go the bawdy fully-emersive music-hall route (rather than the more established musical theater set within a music hall as its framework route). Its not always successful, but it is creative and always very funny.

Costume Designer Julianne Babel has created remarkable character clothing; Scenic Designer MacKenzie Willy’s set is fully realized and looks fantastic. Vocal Director Jeremy Ryan Mossman and Musical Director/Conductor Matthew Shabala keep the show moving along quickly and sounding terrific under Ryan Williams sound design. Matthew Knewtson’s lighting design is colorful and moody.

Don’t know the show? It’s an old chestnut for most of us, but for a younger generation they have most likely not heard of the show or the story — the mystery is Charles Dickens’ final novel — which he had the poor taste to die in the middle of writing and left it without a murder or a conclusion (indeed, was there even a murder?). The musical sets up the premise of members of a music hall cast taking the parts of the characters in Drood and enacting them, and then the audience votes on whom they want as detective, murderer, and lovers. All of the cast leads need to learn the ending based on whom the audience votes-in each night (in reality, at any production of this show, there are only a few combinations that seem to get “elected” performance after performance.)

And what a student cast it is — Payton Reilly plays an excellent Edwin Drood – fine voiced and energetic to the end. Blake Price is a triple threat as singing/acting/dancing John Jasper (although why this production chose to cut Jasper’s Vision ballet in the opium den is beyond my comprehension). Mike Perlongo leads the proceedings as an excellent and charismatic Chairman. Audience favorite Matthew Kurzyniec plays a charming and hilarious Bazzard. Brother/Sister Landless siblings are acted to hilarious effect by Kendall VanAmburg and Lindsay Powers. Love interest Rosa Bud is sung beautifully by Colleen Bielman, and Princess Puffer is astutely played by Gabriella Smurawa, no mean feat for an actress under the age of 60 for this part. Reverend Crisparkle is well played by Aaron C Rutherford, and drunken Georgie-cum-Yorkshire-accented  Durdles by physically comical Nicky Mendelsohn.

Everything moves swiftly, though I would quibble with the choice to set everything in big, comic strokes, rather than allowing the more dramatic moments to shine through. This is particularly bothersome in the comic staging of the serious “Moonfall”, the omission of the ballet, and the weird staging of what should be a very earnest “Perfect Strangers.” Its fun to watch “bad actors” (played by very good actors) do “bad acting” at times, but not for the duration of the show, when it grows tiresome.

Another miss is that the one character most tasked with conveying the “narrative offstage story” (i.e. I saw the guy get carried into the crypt, and then I saw so and so in the shadows) has such a thick accent that the story is virtually indecipherable. And that’s a big problem when you leave your audience scratching their heads and going “huh?”, even if all that dialogue is just throwaway.

Still, minor troubles aside, this is a fantastic production and it is very highly recommended. It is one of the sharpest looking and best-sounding amateur productions of one of my favorite musicals that I have seen.

I loved it. You will too. Go enjoy a great night of trying to solve The Mystery of Edwin Droooooooooooood.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood continues at Western Michigan University’s Shaw Theatre through November 22nd. Tickets online at theatretickets.wmich.edu