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Talent Machine’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Dickens’ last becomes a whodunnit

            Charles Dickens’ commentaries showed the often dark and ­dreary reality of life in Victorian England. So why is a group of teenage actors of The Talent Machine Company dancing and singing a Dickens’ story at St. John’s College?

            The author’s death in 1870 left The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished, opening the door to creative interpretations. The first modern major theatrical adaptation was a musical comedy.

            The Talent Machine, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, brings the fictional Music Hall Royale (a loony Victorian musical troupe) to the stage to produce its own flamboyant rendition.

            This play-within-a-play introduces John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster quite madly in love with his music student, the fair Miss Rosa Bud. Miss Bud is engaged to Jasper’s nephew, young Edwin Drood, who disappears mysteriously one stormy Christmas Eve.

            The plot thickens when the actors playing Dickens’ characters reveal their personalities as music hall performers, adding songs and dances unrelated to the master’s tale.

            Caroline Patterson, a 10-year Talent Machine veteran, plays Drood — as played by Alice Nutting. “I think this is one of the coolest shows I’ve ever done,” says the 16-year-old ­Severna Park High School student. “It’s a mess of organized chaos. I love switching characters throughout the show.”

            Lucy O’Brien, 15, a student at Annapolis High School, portrays Rosa Bud as portrayed by Miss Deirdre of the Music Hall Royale. “I love that my two roles are so very different,” she says.  “One is a flirt and the other is a fair innocent maiden, so I have to switch personalities throughout the show. But our cast is very lively, it feels a lot like we are playing ourselves sometimes. We aren’t afraid to try anything.”

            The twist is Drood’s sudden disappearance. Has he been murdered?

            The audience gets to vote on his fate as prelude to an unusual finale.

            “I love how we bring the audience into the show,” says Patterson. “It’s just so much fun.”

            The twists and turns keep the actors on their toes as well.

            “It’s wonderful to get to know your audience like that, instead of just being on the stage ourselves,” O’Brien said. “We get to see the people who are out there, and that’s just a wonderful thing.”

 

Playing Aug. 4-13: FSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm (plus 6:30pm Aug. 6), Th 7:30pm, The Talent Machine, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15: www.talentmachine.com.

 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: The solve-it-yourself musical. Director: Steve Love. Music Director: Dennis Blair. Choreographer: Vicki Smith.