The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Review by Emilee Hatfield
2013 was a strange year for me, Things changed so dramatically. I was more willing to take on risks. I was getting a bit bored within my normal routine. So when an opportunity presented itself, or more so was brought up during a conversation with my good friend in New Jersey I couldn’t say no. A trip into New York City was a need, something I rarely am able to do. With this trip came a show that took me by the shoulders and shook up some expectations and views I had for the theatre world, and what exactly a show could do. The show was one I myself had never heard of, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
It was a revival that opened in 2012 played at the famous Studio 54 and I couldn’t resist it’s wonderful casting; with the likes of Will Chase, Jessie Mueller, Chita Rivera, Andy Karl and Stephanie J. Block. I was awe struck. What I didn’t realize was just how interactive this show was; being based on Charles Dickinson’s unfinished novel of the same name. So the question presented itself upon my friend’s and my arrival. How was it going to end if the original material was never finished?
First off The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a murder mystery; providing itself with arrangement of strange and unique characters that make their way through the audience, greeting their patrons upon their arrival. I had never seen this done within a show, especially a musical. The reactions of the audience was very well received and I too enjoyed watching the actors as they speak in character to different audience members. Once the music strikes up though the actors go straight in to start the show. Each one clapping and singing showing off their many talents.
The show is nothing short of hilarious with the premise that it takes. While following its source material what The Mystery of Edwin Drood did so well was that it's setting is in an old theatre. Following a group of actors that are playing the roles of the characters from its source material. A story within a story you could say. So each actor is not playing one role, but two. Which is actually very amusing to watch, especially Stephanie J. Block playing both stuck up guest actress Alice Nutting, as well as the gender bent character of Edwin Drood. Block’s credits speak for themselves and here she gave a performance that was well worth the tony nomination she had received that year for the role.
Honestly I could go on and on about this show. The plot is intriguing, the characters themselves are charming and really give you a wonderful experience. Director Scott Ellis brought together something that had never ben revived and made an experience I don’t think many audience members will ever forget.
The idea of eliminating that separation between the audience and the performers is something that made this show stand out. It gave it this warm elegant yet almost chaotic feel. You did not know what was going to happen, who was gong to pop up where, and most importantly who killed Edwin Drood. The entire first Act is a bit more scripted than the second, due to the fact they run out of source material to go off of. Making way f0r the best part of the show, the improvised scenes and voting. The whole idea of the show is trying to figure out who murdered Edwin Drood, and the audience members are the only ones with the answer. While the actors hold up numbered cards, they allow the audience to vote on whom they believe to be the murderer. Each actor prepared for the moments notice if they have been chosen to be the guilty crook.
There is so much that goes on within this show, and each experience is a different one. Not only is that amazing, but is also just proves how out of the box theatre can be. Who would have ever thought that the idea of using an unfinished book would make way to such an amazing idea and experience? It not only keeps the actors on their toes, giving them something new to work with night after night, but it also provides audience members to see something new every time they would attend. Being the theatre lover I am, I have seen a few productions over and over when given the chance and majority of the time I would want to see the production again due to cast change. I love seeing how another actor would take on a role because it makes the show appear fresh. With The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it is always fresh every night, creating a different story each time.
Sadly the show did close after its limited run in 2013 after being extended once, and releasing a cast recording which is still available. The show to this day is still the best nights of theatre I have ever had, each detail still firmly in my memory. Especially one of Stephanie J. Block speaking with me as Alice Nutting just before the overture began. This was a show that ignited that need for theatre, that need to see as much as I could and see different forms of it. This is what makes me wish the show was still running, it more than deserved it, and its cast deserving all the more praise.
After leaving the show that day I couldn't help but wonder why weren’t more shows done this way, or at least why wasn’t new material being made to be more interactive with their audiences. Yes there are certain times that it shouldn’t be done, and there are times that it most certainly should. The Mystery of Edwin Drood was defiantly a must. It is no wonder that this was the best reviewed show of the 2012-13 Broadway season, and I can only hope that there will be another revival soon.