Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Goodspeed Musicals
Review by Fred Sokol

The Cast
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Goodspeed Musicals' production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is about as good as it gets when it comes to audience participation-type theatre. If you already love that genre, it's an anticipated winner. Should you be a skeptic, this show will entice, befriend, and ultimately succeed for you as well. Director Rob Ruggiero, choreographer James Gray, and musical director Adam Souza coax and cajole what is, fortunately for all, an ultra-spirited collection of performers. This one catches attention early and zips along for close to three hours. Don't be surprised if you have an impulse to sing and dance!

Charles Dickens began his Drood novel, a final effort, but passed away before finishing it. Rupert Holmes began work on a musical version in 1983. A few years later, the full musical was on Broadway and became an award winner. Holmes envisioned an 1895 London Music Hall as the setting and set forth authoring the story while providing music and lyrics, too. His idea was to incorporate a play within a larger play. Thus, all the actors are members of the music hall who then play characters which Dickens created. It might sound complicated here, but the presentation is quite logical.

Further, the Goodspeed Opera House is an absolutely spot-on, perfect locale for the proceedings. The structure, complete with balcony and different vantage points, is ideal since everyone in this cozy space feels close to the stage. Ann Beyersdorfer's scenic design and Hunter Kaczorowski's costumes add zestful flavor and spice. At the get go and again and again, actors, in full dress, wander up and down house aisles where they interact with theater patrons.

Chairman of the Music Hall Royale/Mr. William Cartwright (Lenny Wolpe) narrates delightfully. The entire company appears with "There You Are," and John Jasper/Mr. Clive Paget (Paul Adam Schaefer) says hello to his nephew Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting (Mamie Parris). We next meet Rosa Bud/Miss Deirdre Peregrine (Riley Borland), who studies with her music teacher, Jasper (Paul Adam Schaefer). He finds her captivating in every way, but she hopes to marry Drood. Other supportive and oftentimes wildly comic folks come along. They include Reverend Crisparkle/Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe (Paul Slade Smith), individuals arriving from Ceylon (Levin Valayil and Jetta Juriansz), and showstopping Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock (Liz McCartney) who facilitates an opium den. We are not even through the first half of the initial act.

Dickens, who evidently wrote only about half of what he might have intended, included some darkness but Holmes does not. His work is light, bouncy and humorous. By the time the lengthy first act concludes, Drood is no longer on the scene, having disappeared. The willing audience is invited to vote and decide just who did away with Edwin Drood. John Jasper, who might today fit a multiple-personality profile, comes across as a quintessential bad guy. His obsession for Drood who was not obsessed with him has no limits. Actor Schaefer (it is easy to imagine him as he was: the title character in the final Broadway cast of Phantom) might be a likely choice as the killer. No one could vote for Princess Puffer (McCartney) because she is a hoot and a half and demonstrates a sterling singing voice. Her rendition of "Moonfall" is a highlight of the evening. In any case, the actors hold up signs at voting time and observers love the opportunity to boo cast members who step forward and so on and so forth. But the show is far from over.

Lenny Wolpe, a familiar presence at the Goodspeed, in the Berkshires, and on Broadway, returns with a quest to formulate a happy ending for all on stage and the rest of us. The extravaganza concludes with the entire enthusiastic company fusing voices on "The Solution." This type of theatrical enterprise happily grants anyone watching a shot at getting further involved. Cheer for the comically gifted and hiss at a villain or react to eccentric weirdos. Frankly, the whodunnit part is secondary at best. It might be impossible to doze off for those who find themselves expecting to catch a snooze when they go to a play. Instead, this Goodspeed rendering asks for activity to complement and maximize Rupert Holmes's terrific composition.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood runs through June 2, 2024, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-873-8668 or visit