Delightful is the word I would use to describe the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s newest production, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Modeled after English stage shows of the 19th century, the musical follows a troupe of actors putting on a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ last unfinished novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
The story of “Drood” is, in typical Dickens fashion, filled with mysterious twists and grim subject matter. John Jaspers is a lecherous choirmaster who lusts for his young pupil Rosa Bud, the fiancée of his nephew Edwin Drood. Further intrigue enters in the form of Neville Landless, who also aims to woo Ms. Bud, and his sister Helena Landless. As more characters become roped into the murky situation, it becomes less and less clear who posess the greatest threat.
The show’s main allure is its use of audience participation. In the original novel, Dickens died before he was able to resolve the mystery. Instead of providing its own solution, “Drood” allows the viewers to vote on multiple outcomes, ending the musical with whichever ending receives the most support. This means that if you were to see the play on two seperate nights, you could witness two distinctly different endings with unique character revelations and musical numbers. This takes the literary concept of “death of the author” to a whole new level, allowing the audience to literally make the story conform to their own wishes as a result of the author’s real-life death.
The play-within-a-play aspect of the show provided an entertainingly bizarre meta quality to the production. Each character played both an actor and the role of said actor within “Edwin Drood” (If that sounds confusing, it makes more sense when viewing the show). This leads to some hilarious moments where the actors will “stop the show” to negotiate wages, recast roles or discuss the troupe’s “upcoming productions.” This use of layered storytelling helps to transport the audience to feel that they really are in 19th century England.
As usual, the singing and acting were superb all around. The most memorable performances by students came from Bryan Mittelstadt as the villainous John Jasper, GraceAnn Brooks as Rosa Bud, Mauricio Miranda and Rebekah Santiago (donning Indian accents) as Neville and Rebekah Landless and Rob Barnes and Matt Bader as the hilarious duo Durdles and Deputy.
The equity actors brought in are also outstanding, with Kurt Zischke as Mr. William Cartwright (the head of the acting troupe), Kelly Lester as opium den proprietor Princess Puffer, Aaron Bantum as James Throttle and Emily Ferranti as the titular Edwin Drood. All of them exuded talent equivalent to a show on Broadway, and the fact that UConn’s own actors were able to hold their own on stage with them is a testament to the professionalism of the CRT.
The costumes were phenomenal all around, showcasing some of the best work of the CRT to date. Each character had their own unique color scheme and appearance which matched their individual personalities while still maintaining a distinct Dickens quality.
As a musical, the show did not disappoint, using witty lyrics and perfectly capturing the sound of a British music hall. The opening number, “There You Are,” is filled to bursting with energy and excitement that draws you in immediately and never lets you go. Some of my personal favorites were the beautifully melancholic “Moonfall” sung exquisitely by Brooks, the wickedly funny “Wages of Sin” sung with comedic virtuosity by Lester and the “Settling Up the Score.”
This may have been the greatest performance I have seen yet by the CRT. Everything came together so well that it was simply impossible to leave without a smile on your face. As a longtime fan of Charles Dickens, I am happy to say that it perfectly captured the distinct character and charm of his work. The show will be running for the rest of the week, so I advise that you schedule in a viewing as soon as possible. This production is a triumph in every sense of the word, and you would being doing yourself a disservice if you miss it.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.