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PlayMakers Repertory Company and The ArtsCenter of Carrboro, NC will present a Summer Youth Conservatory Program production of DROOD — THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, composer, lyricist, and librettist Rupert Holmes’ award-winning musical based on an unfinished novel by English literary giant Charles Dickens (1812-70), on July 22-25 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Dramatic Art. DROOD made its Broadway debut, directed by Wilford Leach and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, on Dec. 2, 1985 at the Imperial Theatre, where it played for 608 performances before closing on May 16, 1987. The show won the 1986 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Actor in a Musical (George Rose as Mayor Thomas Sapsea, Mr. William Cartwright, and Your Chairman).

“I directed a production of DROOD about a decade ago in Los Angeles,” recalls director Tom Quaintance. “A friend recommended it to me as the best Tony Award-winning play that almost no one knew about.”

He adds, “The show is incredibly fun to watch and perform. [DROOD] is based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. [It was] The first mystery Dickens ever wrote, and he died before revealing the mystery!

“The idea [of Rupert Holmes’ musical] is that a London music hall troupe, under the dynamic direction of the Chairman of the Musical Hall Royale William Cartwright (Emma Carson-DeWitt), around the turn of the century/Victorian era, has decided to put on a musical version of DROOD, where they will make up alternate endings for the show and have the audience decide key questions to determine the outcome,” Quaintance explains. “The story is set in the ‘ancient, moldering, Cathedral city of Cloisterham,’ a fictionalized town outside of London. The title character, Edwin Drood (Isabelle Carson-DeWitt,) disappears halfway through the story, presumed murdered.

“Could John Jasper (Josh Collier), the Jekyll-and-Hyde-like uncle, have done him in? His own betrothed Rosa Bud (Sarah Hausmann)? The tempestuous Helena Landless (Ardyn Flynt)? Suspects abound,” claims Tom Quaintance. “Who is the killer? Who is the mysterious detective that arrives late in the story? Is there a happy ending?”

Quaintance says, “Rehearsing this musical with over a hundred possible endings is thrilling, demanding, and a bit terrifying. Even though the audience will only see one ending, we are rehearsing them all, so it is like we are rehearsing a marathon show.”

He adds, “The play-within-a-play aspect is part of the great fun. Each actor is playing both the turn-of-the-century musical-hall performer and a Dickensian character. It allows for a great range of acting styles, some fabulous comic moments, and some good old-fashioned vaudeville style routines.

“Last fall,” Quaintance says, “I co-directed [THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF] NICHOLAS NICKLEBY with Joe Haj for PlayMakers. Steeped in the world of Dickens, the idea of DROOD came up as a way of further exploring that great landscape. And it seemed a great fit for the Summer Youth Conservatory. Later the idea of producing the play on the NICKLEBY set was introduced. I jumped at the chance to re-enter that marvelous Dickensian playground that designer McKay Coble gave us for NICKLEBY.”

In addition to director Tom Quaintance, the creative team for DROOD — THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD includes producers Joseph Haj (PlayMakers‘ producing artistic director) and Ed Camp (The ArtsCenter‘s executive director), assistant director Julie Fishell, choreographer Erin Dangler, music director Mark Lewis, fight director David McClutchey, production manager Michael Rolleri, technical director Rod James, scenic designer McKay Coble, costume designer Jade Bettin, costume director Christine McInnis, lighting designer Cecelia Durbin, sound designer Jeffery Sullivan, dramaturg Marshall Botvinick, and stage manager Sarah Smiley. Rod James also contributed additional design elements to the production.

“A few days before NICHOLAS NICKLEBY closed,” director Tom Quaintance remembers, “Joe Haj called to ask if I wanted to stage DROOD on the NICHOLAS set. It took about 10 seconds of thought to say ‘Yes!’ It is the most spectacular set I have ever had the pleasure of working on; Dickensian through and through and incredibly flexible — a crucial element considering the number of different locals in DROOD. It has been a joy to play on this set again.”

Quaintance notes, “The costume designer has the same job as the actors — to tell two stories. One is the story of DROOD; the other is the story of the Musical Hall Royale, a colorful London theatre troupe of 1892. It will be a joy to behold.”

He adds, “We treat the young actors in the same way we treat professionals — so the challenges are largely the same. I often say that I consider musical theater presented by young performers to be the pinnacle of the art form. There is an unfiltered, unabashed joy in performing that is utterly lacking in cynicism or artifice that is almost impossible to reproduce with seasoned professionals. That combined with working with professionals behind the scenes is the best of both worlds….

“The audience has a very important job in this play,” notes director Tom Quaintance. “We literally cannot stage this without audience participation. The audience chooses the ending, and it is not rigged in any way. It is what makes DROOD a unique theatrical event, and one that needs to be experienced to understand how much fun it truly is!”

He claims, “[T]he largest challenge [in staging DROOD — THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD with a Summer Youth Conservatory cast of actors aged 10 to 18] is undoubtedly the unpredictability of the ending of the play.”

SECOND OPINION: July 20th Durham, NC HERALD-SUN preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: (NOTE: You must register first to read this article).

PlayMakers Repertory Company and The ArtsCenter present DROOD — THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at 7:30 p.m. July 22-24 and 2 p.m. July 25 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.



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