Saturday, 24 November 2012


     I have to admit that I walked out of the original production of DROOD. It was a bad time in my family life and the music was so mediocre, the performances were so mannered, the sound so unpleasantly loud that I left at the intermission. I don't think I would have gone to this revival, produced by the Roundabout Theatre at their Studio 54, if the prospect for a cheap ticket hadn't appeared on the TDF website. The fact that the show was available on TDF on Thanksgiving weekend, one of the busiest times for Broadway theaters, suggests that it is not selling well, though my Friday night audience was clearly having a wonderful time.
     THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD was the brainstorm of pop songwriter Rupert Holmes who wrote the book, music and lyrics. The show gives us a Victorian music hall version of Charles Dickens' unfinished murder mystery. A master of ceremonies (Jim Norton) introduces Dickens' characters and the equally fictional Victorian performers who impersonate them. The "mystery" is delightfully overacted. There are plot numbers and boisterous music hall numbers. At the point at which Dickens died, leaving the novel unfinished, the audience votes on the outcome of the story after which the cast performs the ending the audience has voted for. It's a clever gimmick and audiences seem to love their participation in the show.
     This time around in this winningly directed (Scott Ellis) and beautifully designed (sets Anna Louizos, costumes William Ivey Long) production, the show is a pleasant entertainment. The voting business goes on far too long, but there's much to enjoy here. If I sound like I'm not totally won over, it's because of Rupert Holmes score. There is one lovely ballad and a couple of pleasant tunes, but the problem is that the score simply isn't very tuneful. Holmes seems to have been particularly interested in writing patter songs but unlike Stephen Sondheim (or Cole Porter before him), he doesn't seem to know how to make a patter song musically interesting. I still find that much of the score verges on being irritating rather than pleasant.
     The cast is excellent. My memories of the original production are of a group of actors overacting (Betty Buckley overact??). This gang has a lighter touch. Jim Norton sets the tone as the puckish master of ceremonies. The rest of the starry company (Will Chase, Stephanie J. Block, Jessie Mueller, Andy Karl, Gregg Edelman and the legendary Chita Rivera) make you believe that they're having the time of their lives doing this show within a show. It's all played for laughs, but in a a seemingly effortless way. They're all fine singers who deserve a better score than Rupert Holmes has given them. There's a good-sized band with real strings (minimal synthesizing -- yay!!!).
     So, an enjoyable show though there's a limit to the praise that can be heaped on a musical with a weak score.
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. Book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes. Roundabout Theatre Studio 54. November 23, 2012,      

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