Monday, November 14, 2016

The Mystery of Edwin Drood—Metropolitan Community Theatre Project—downtown Portland

What the Dickens!?

This musical, based on Dickens’s unfinished novel, is written by Rupert Holmes, directed by Livia Genise, produced by Barbara Richardson and Matt Storm, choreographed by Juliet Prosser and musical direction by Rebecca Chelson.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway (4th floor), through November 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 360-975-1585.

A mystery by Dickens, you say!  It’s a first, right?  No, not actually, as most of his stories had surprises, twists and turns, disguises and revelations, all of which are part and parcel of a good mystery.  But, in this case, the mystery surrounds what happened to the title character on one fateful night, as he disappeared and, since Dickens had the audacity to die before he finished it, leaving no notes as to the outcome, the rest being speculation.

The BBC did a reasonably good, non-musical adaptation, finishing the story for him but, although it made sense from a modern, mystery-writer’s vernacular, it wasn’t Dickens style.  He’s not considered one of the great writers for nothing, you know.  This musical version turns the story upside-down, doing a tongue-and-cheek variation on it, plunking it down in a music hall of the 1800’s, with an acting troupe doing a parody of it.  Not sure Dickens would have approved (but he was a bit of a ham himself, doing one-man shows of readings from his novels and loving the attention) but it’s an entertaining concept.

The play stops at the point that Dickens did and then the audience is enlisted to add their input as to what happened and, if murdered, who did it.  The script bogs down at this point, going on far too long and so it drags a bit here.  But the interaction of the actors with the audience at many points, reminding one of an old-fashioned melodrama, is quite amusing.

The plays hinges together with a type of M/C (James Montgomery), with the aid of his Stage Manager (Kyle Ulrich), introducing the actors/characters and then narrating, at times, parts of the story.  It seems that the industrious, Edwin Drood (Kelly Jean Hammond), is a young man engaged to his childhood sweetheart, the lovely, Rosa Bud (Nicole Rayner).  But she has another interested suitor, the scheming, John Jasper (Matthew Storm, also a co-producer of this show), the church’s choirmaster and Drood’s uncle.  But his romantic advances are unrequited.

Into this world enter the twins from Ceylon, the exotic, Helena (Kate Cummings) and her bombastic brother, Neville (Paul Cosca), and their benefactor,  the flamboyant, Rev. Crisparkle (Kevin Newland Scott), who will be staying with Jasper, as well.  His assistant is Bazzard (Kyle Urban), a fledgling playwright.  Neville also takes an instant liking to Rosa and a dislike to Drood, as he’s competition.  Curiously, they all seem to be orphans, too.

Meanwhile, back at the manor, Jasper seems to be leading a double, if not triple, life.  He has an unhealthy interest in old crypts from the skanky, Durdles (Andrew Hallas), a gravedigger, with his deputies (Gloria Galland and Olivia Ashdown).  He is also a frequenter of an opium den, headed by the unscrupulous, Princess Puffer (Rachelle Riehl).  The crime, if there is one, all comes to a head on one stormy, Christmas Eve, where many of the participants have been having dinner at Jasper’s.  Edwin and Neville decide to take an evening walk along the river and that is the last that is seen of Drood.  Months pass but Puffer is still searching for what happened to Drood and she is joined by a mysterious detective, Dick Datchery (?) and together they begin to investigate the disappearance.That’s where Dickens ends, and then comes, as I mentioned, the audience to get in on the act.

The songs add to the story line.  Particularly effective are “The Wages of Sin” (Puffer); “Perfect Strangers” (Drood & Rosa); “Never the Luck” (Bazzard & Company); “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead” (Company); “Jasper’s Confession” (Jasper); and the rousing, “The Writing on the Wall” (Company).  The music by the orchestra was effective and did not overpower the actors.  The specialty dance numbers were very well done in “Jasper’s Vision,” “Off to the Races,” and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.”  This is a complicated show for a director but Genise pulls it off well and her casting of it is excellent.  Also the costuming by Alyssa Rands added immensely to the success of the production!

Some extraordinary voices here, too, especially Rayner, operatic; Hammond, powerful; Riehl; very animated; and Storm, haunting.  Hammond is a performer of the first magnitude and she has a career in front of her if she chooses it.  She came across as confident, had wonderful stage presence and has a voice and beauty to match.  And bravo, also, to the chorus, who added greatly to the story.

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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