Theatre Raleigh’s Hot Summer Nights Series kicks off the summer live-theater season with a rip-snorting rendition of Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood (also known as Drood), based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel of the same name. The musical, for which Holmes wrote the book, music, and lyrics debuted at the August 1985 New York Shakespeare Festival before moving to Broadway. It won 1986 Tony Awards® for Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Musical. Rupert Holmes was in residence here, through the entire rehearsal process, adapting the musical for its premiere in smaller theaters.
The structure of the show is somewhat unusual, in that the actors play the roles of performing actors in a Victorian-style pantomime music hall, as well as various roles those actors assume. Before the actual show, several actors wander about and engage the audience, doing magic tricks, juggling, and performing gymnastic stunts, while others are getting “oiled up” a bit at the stage-right bar with a portrait of the olde Queen herself hanging on its back wall. It’s mildly controlled chaos until Chairman William Cartwright calls us to attention. He then explains how the actor/role situation works and the basic story that Dickens wrote, but died before completing, and that since Dickens left a great real mystery — was Drood killed and if so, who did it? — that the end would be controlled by audience vote.
And there you are. Well, not exactly, but that’s the title of the opening number, “There You Are,” which is controlled and perfectly choreographed and performed, setting the standard for the riotous, boisterous entertainment that follows the chaos.
Set designer Chris Bernier created a fine Music Hall Royale, replete with sheer fabric draped from ceiling to orchestra and an open stage with multifunctional pieces that are assembled into various locations. Costume designer Allison White garbs the burlesquers in authentic-feeling Victorian togs, coordinated perfectly with the wigs of Patti DelSordo.
An orchestra, directed by Jay Wright at the piano, and a second pianist, a bassist, a viola/violinist, a reeds man, and a percussionist back up the ensemble of 11 in a nonstop, peppy and frolicsome 90 minutes-plus spectacular that kept us all in stitches and awe.
Director and choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the show fast-paced, tumbling from one scene to the next, with live and often bawdy dance routines and true music hall camaraderie.
John Paul Almon plays the aforementioned Chairman William Cartwright, who fills in for an indisposed (read drunken) actor to assume the role of Mayor Thomas Sapsea. Almon pulls off the double role with ease, even through the confusion that naturally ensues when his two characters interact.
The “title role” (known as the “principle boy” in the period, and customarily an actress) is played by Lauren Kennedy, who performs male drag magnificently. Her rich, melodious voice and effervescent personality gives Drood the élan of a Victorian gentleman. She also doubles in a couple of other interesting roles.
Sally Mayes is sultry and sly as Princess Puffer, a Madam, a wronged woman, and a choice suspect for the murder. Her renditions of “The Wages of Sin” and “The Garden Path to Hell” are superbly done.
John Jasper, the lecherous uncle, and supposedly very good friend, of Drood is skillfully portrayed by Adam Poole, who moves around the stage like a puma. Poole manages the schizophrenic personality of Jasper with versatility and strength.
Lovely Alexandra May takes on Rosa Bud, Drood’s fiancée, endowing her with the necessary innocence for the part as well as her maturing. She charms us with her solo, “Moonfall.”
Jacob Dickey and Marisa Roberge play the Ceylonese twins, Neville and Helena Landless; and they deliver identically perfect performances. The Rev. Mr. Crisparkle is honorable and sturdy, with a twinkle in his eye as given us by David Bartlett.
Robert “Bobby” Kaufman is agile and facile as Durdles, the drunken stonemason, while Mike Raab is just heart breaking as Mr. Phillip Bax, the actor desperately in need of a good role, which he bemoans in his song “Never the Luck” And engaging A.C. Donohue plays a variety of roles, all the while she’s tending bar for the thirsty customers of the Music Hall Royale.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a befitting summer pleasure.
SECOND OPINION: May 13th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/theatre-raleighs-the-mystery-of-edwin-drood-is-the-most-fun-youll-have-all-year/; May 12th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article77211507.html; May 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-mystery-of-edwin-drood/Event?oid=5020239; and April 29th Raleigh, NC Raleigh Magazine preview by Alexandra Drosu: http://raleighmag.com/2016/04/choose-your-own-ending/.
Theatre Raleigh presents THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, starring Lauren Kennedy and Sally Mayes, at 8 p.m. May 13, 2 and 8 p.m. May 14, 3 p.m. May 15, 8 p.m. May 18-20, 2 and 8 p.m. May 21, and 3 p.m. May 22 in the in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $32.50 ($30.50 seniors), except $40 for bar-table seating.
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S61000000cBRMEA2.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S61000000cBRMEA2 and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/the-mystery-of-edwin-drood-7203.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished 1870 novel): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mystery_of_Edwin_Drood (Wikipedia).
Charles Dickens (English novelist, 1812-70): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens (Wikipedia).
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985 Broadway and 1987 West End musical): http://www.rupertholmes.com/theatre/drood.html (official web page), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/6413 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drood (Wikipedia).
Rupert Holmes (music, lyrics, and book): http://www.rupertholmes.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/6325 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Holmes (Wikipedia).
DJ Salisbury (Manhattan, NY director and choreographer): http://djsalisbury.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/dj.salisbury.1 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/wonderfool (Twitter page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.