To create an atmosphere of a play within a play, the cast of Charles Dickens’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” begins by mingling with the audience and explaining the night’s proceedings, which include the audience voting on the identity of the murderer.
For the rest of the play, the cast is employed by The Musical Hall Royale, which is putting on Edwin Drood. The comedic elements of the dual shows help relieve tension built up by the murder mystery. The Musical Hall Royale players break character and crack bawdy jokes.
Unfortunately, on Monday, April 27, many of the jokes weren’t told loudly enough. The cafeteria’s poor acoustics and the lack of microphones combined to drown out some of the fast-paced dialogue, losing much of the show’s humor and storyline. Junior Marta Krason, who produced the show with Sophomore Jaimie Meyers, acknowledged the show’s significant technical difficulties on the first night. The following night, the stage was moved to another part of the cafeteria, which significantly improved the sound. The lighting crew also managed to give the minimalist stage dramatic overhead lights, adding to the intensity of the show.
Technical difficulties or not, the musical numbers struck the audience with melodramatic (and sometimes humorous) force each time. As the title character, Senior Ella Gibson had a controlled voice and a lively stage presence that defined her tongue-in-cheek role as Alice Nutting, “London’s leading male impersonator.” Whether she was exchanging insults with rival Neville Landless (Sophomore Felix Handte), or breaking off an engagement with childhood friend Rosa Bud (Junior Kyla Alterman), Gibson controlled the stage.
Drood’s uncle John Jasper (Senior Matthew Gottesman) had full control over the audience in a different way: his schemes to take Edwin’s life and his lust for Rosa made him the lowliest of villains. His lines were delivered with the frantic undertones of a madman and his songs were chillingly powerful. Surprisingly, the number that best showed off his talents was “Both Sides of the Coin,” sung with Junior Justy Kosek as Mayor Sapsea (Musical Hall Royale’s emcee). The song allowed Gottesman to reveal his character’s frightening duality, while Kosek humorously lamented his character’s need to play two roles on stage that night.
When Gottesman and Alterman took the stage together, they performed energetically. As scared as she was of Jasper’s lecherous advances, Bud was determined to prove that she was an independent woman. In the first performance, Rosa was voted by the audience to be Edwin Drood’s murderer. Her confession was one of the highlights of the night, detailing how she mistook Drood to be Jasper in the dark night.
Sophomore Rebecca Temkin played a cook, and caught the audience’s attention by interrupting Drood and Landless’s bickering and Rosa’s protests several times to present courses for the meal. She reappears later as Reverend Crisparkle’s assistant, Bazzard, who longs for glory as a playwright. She also breaks character for a funny and well-sung rendition of “Never The Luck.” On Monday night, she performed “Out on a Limerick” with power and humor, much to the audience’s delight.
Junior Clio Contegenis’s portrayal of Princess Puffer, Rosa’s long-lost guardian and owner of the opium den, also brought her character alive onstage. Her suggestive and vulgar lines were delivered with the convincing croak of a washed-up prostitute. On the second night, when she was revealed to be Drood’s killer (also mistaking him for Jasper), she convincingly performed her last number as someone who was defeated by a life spent trying to earn “the wages of sin”.
As Mayor Sapsea himself proclaims ironically, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” was a show put together “with hardly a seam showing.” The audience overlooked the venue’s technical difficulties because of the powerful performances. “Even though SING! happened right in the middle of our rehearsals, the directors did the best they could and the show worked out really well,” Krason said. According to Krason, Jenny Han, the show’s pianist, was only given a few days to rehearse. Given more time, she would have played as well as the actors sang. The set could also have been given more consideration.
Edwin Drood was a hit. It was written to be a crowd-pleaser, but Dickens passed away before he could write an ending, and the audience was invited to choose one. The show’s endless humor did not detract from its melodramatic intensity.