Review by Doug Iden
Whodunnit?Â Not even Charles Dickens knew the answer in his uncompleted novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.Â However, the Northern Kentucky University theater (and the audience) may have the answer with their production of Dickens’ mystery novel.
This is a unique musical because it allows the audience to vote for the killer of Edwin Drood among seven suspects shown previously in the production. The show also not only breaks the â€œfourth wallâ€ but it virtually shatters it with frequent excursions by the cast into the audience. Audience participation is crucial provided by avid theatergoers including friends and classmates. Halfway through the second act, the show stops and everyone is asked to vote for the murderer of Drood. Based upon the results of the vote, there are seven possible different endings so the actors must do double duty. Also, eleven principal actors play 27 different characters.
Any NKU production is delightful because of the enthusiasm and energy of the students who donâ€™t treat the plays as jobs or projects or homework assignments but always seem to enjoy performing.Â They â€œchew up the sceneryâ€.Â There are some excellent examples including the delightfully sly portrayal of both the Chairman and Mayor Sapsea by Jeâ€™Shaun Jackson.Â As the charismatic Chairman, Jackson talks directly to the audience both as narrator and commentator on the characters and their milieu. Ellie Oâ€™Hara plays a charming Alice Nutting, Edwin Drood (always done by a woman) and a mysterious detective.Â Field Oldham is John Jasper who becomes an obvious suspect because he covets his music student Rosa Bud (Makenna Henahan) who is the finance of Drood.Â Tre Taylor plays an over-the-top Reverend Crisparkle always playing to the audience and Kanai Nakata plays the devious Princess Puffer who runs a brothel and opium den.Â Her rendition of â€œThe Wages of Sinâ€ is a highlight filled with innuendo.Â Ezra Crist (Durdles) and Barrett Minks (Deputy) do comic turns as workers and Jason Coffenberry and Arianna Catalano play disingenuous twins from Ceylon.
Playwright Rupert Holmes seems right at home by crafting a tongue-in-cheek take on Dickens and murder mysteries using the background of a London Music Hall (similar to Vaudeville) with many production numbers including “There You Areâ€, â€œNo Good Can Come from Badâ€, â€œOff to the Racesâ€, â€œAn English Music Hallâ€, â€œSettling the Scoreâ€ and â€œThe Writing on the Wallâ€.Â Of the 25 songs, some highlights include the ballad â€œMoonfallâ€ sung initially by Henehan and then as a duet with Oldham and â€œPerfect Strangersâ€ a duet by Henehan and Oâ€™Hara.
The singing is good led by Oldham, Oâ€™Hara, Henehan, Jeâ€™Shaun Jackson, Coffenberry and Catalano. Music Director Jamey Strawn has successfully created the Music Hall atmosphere coupled with the choreography of Maddie Jones.
The set design by Tao Wang is spartan but effective. In keeping with the casual feel of the show, we see actors coming and going while setting up the props. Video projections of a theater, storms, London, etc. help set the background. Costume designed by Ronnie Chamberlain depict late 19th century London attire including suits for the gentry, elegant gowns for the women and seedy dress for the workers.
Overall, Director Jason Danieley and Holmes has created a humorous, fanciful dessert of good songs, good singing and dancing and a different audience experience. This is not your grandmotherâ€™s musical but you will be glad you saw it.
So, emulate your best Miss Marple or Sam Spade and investigate the devious doings at NKU as you try to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. You can catch it until November 21. Click HERE for tickets and information.
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. Â He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).