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Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Whodunnit? Ask the audience

DJ Wojciehowski, Wendell Holland, David Merrill, Paige Miller, Casey Lynne Garner and Emily Lentz are among the cast playing an English town’s worth of winking whackies in this Charles Dickens whodunnit. <<photo by Alison Harbaugh>>

When Charles Dickens died 145 years ago this month, he left behind an unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Release was scheduled in a dozen installments between 1870 and 1871, but he finished only six. Afterward, it became a bit of a cottage industry to take on the novel’s completion, including deciding which of Dickens’ characters was responsible for the murder of the title character.  Would-be Dickens met with varying levels of success. One that turned out quite well is the version that kicks off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th season.
    With book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (earworm warning: Holmes is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “Escape … The Piña Colada Song”), the show debuted in 1985 and won Holmes five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Lighter and broader than the novel, this musical Drood’s action and audience are in an old-time English music hall, a show-within-a-show complete with emcee and cast playing not Dickens’ characters but music hall performers playing Dickens’ characters.
    And what characters they are, an English town’s worth of winking whackies, led by a triad of top talent. David Merrill has a great time as John Jasper, Drood’s schizoid uncle and choirmaster. Paige Miller is the sincere ingénue Rosa Bud, Drood’s betrothed after whom Jasper lusts. Emily Lentz is Drood in a traditional cross-dressing role. All three have wonderful voices, and Merrill’s and Miller’s especially soar on the operatic “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” sung after he confesses his love for her.
     As the proprietor of the Music Hall Royale, Erik Alexis excitedly introduces us to the actors and their characters and guides us through the story with old jokes and a fine voice. His duet with Merrill on “Both Sides of the Coin,” a 100mph patter-song romp through an actor’s confusion when playing two parts, is a highlight of the night.
    As the newcomers from Ceylon, Casey Lynne Garner and DJ Wojciehowski stir things up nicely as siblings Helena and Neville Landless. Wendell Holland’s Reverend Crisparkle is perhaps not the upstanding man of the cloth he wants us to believe. As Princess Puffer, an opium den denizen, Maribeth Vogel offers up a fine “The Garden Path to Hell” in describing how a boyfriend turned her to a life of sleaze. Several other fine characters anchor the show, including Ethan Goldberg as Durdles, the usually drunk stonemason, and Stephanie Bernholz, doing a fine job with the stick puppet that plays Durdles’ Deputy.
    Connecting all of these characters to the plot might take more space than allotted here, so let’s just say that when Drood ends up murdered, there are plenty of suspects, plus a new character who comes on to investigate. This being a musical based on Dickens’ version of Drood rather than the brooding, dark and incomplete novel, it’s all tied up with a happy ending. Several, in fact.    
    Whodunnit? You get to decide.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Ken Kimble. Choreographer: Elysia Greene-Merrill. Stage manager: Kristy McKeever. Costumer: Jackie Colestock. Lighting designer: Drew Fox.
 
Playing thru June 20. Th-S plus W June 17 8pm: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; summergarden.com.