Whodunnit? I dunno. Let’s vote on it.

Last night, we went to the final performance of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. I was very glad that we only had to go to Simi Valley and not the REP, because we were able to avoid the mess that is the I-5/Route 14 junction. Anyway, on to the show.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is a musical based on the unfinished novel by Messr. C. Dickens, with book, music, and lyrics by Messr. Rupert Holmes. The story concerns a young man, Edwin Drood, who is about to marry a beautiful young lady, Rosa Bud. Unfortunately for Edwin, his uncle is Rosa’s music teacher and is also in love with Rosa. His uncle also suffers from a medical condition (I think migraines) that has him visiting the opium dens in London (run by Princess Puffer). Added to the mix is are the brother and sisters Neville and Helena Landless from Ceylon: Neville and Edwin have a distinct dislike for one another, as Edwin is English and Neville is British. There is also the comic relief subplot about Durdles and Deputy digging a crypt for the Lord Mayor, and a seemingly lecherous Reverend Mr. Chrisparkle. One night, after a dinner at Jaspers, Edwin disappears. The group starts to investigate the murder when… led by Princess Puffer and a mysterious stranger, Dick Dachery. However, shortly after that point, Dickens died and the story was finished.

Here is where the conceit of the play comes it. The play is told in the setting of an English Musical Hall (in fact, the original opening number (captured on a Lost in Boston album) was “An English Music Hall”), and so the actors are playing actors in the Music Hall Royale production of December 29, 1892, who are playing the actors in the story. This leads to an intentional “melodrama” style of performance, where actors are introduced as the Music Hall actor in their first scenes, and the play is presided over by a Chairman who relates the story and sets each scene. It also leads to the main conceit: audience participation.

Yes, audience participation. When the play abruptly stops, there are four open questions:

  • Is Edwin Drood dead or just missing?
  • Who is Dick Dachery?
  • Who murdered Edwin Drood?
  • Who eventually falls in love with each other?

The first question is always answered by the company, who vote Edwin dead. The rest are voted on by the audience, and the actors in the music hall then end the story based on the vote. In the production we saw last night, a minor character (Bazzard) was voted to be Dachery, the murderer was Neville Landless, and the couple was Princess Puffer and the Reverend.

So how did the company do? Acting-wise, quite well for what they are. The Actors Rep of Simi Valley rarely uses equity actors, and is more on the level of local community theatre (vs. Rep East, where there are regular equity actors). The actors were all reasonably competent, and some were quite good. We were all very impressed with Elisabeth Stockton as Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock and Anna Graves as Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting. Both sang and acted quite well. Comically, John Sarkela did an excellent job as The Reverend Mr. Chrisparkle/Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe, with Nick Furguson and Corey Slack as the bumbling Durdles/Mr. Nick Cricker and Deputy/Master Dick Cricker, respectively. Jodi Wurts had the appropriate melodramatic chops as Neville Landless/Mr. VIctor Grinstead, playing up the role to the hilt. Kristina Reyes as Rosa Bud/Miss Deirdre Peregrine was beautiful, but at times came off as stiff. I was less impressed with Ryan Neely as John Jasper/Mr. Clive Paget–his performance just seemed a bit off for me, but I can’t put my finger on why. Amanda Lastort as Helena Landless/Miss Janet Conover was competant, but seemed to be overacting a bit which was distracting. The very rotund Fred Helsel as Mr. William Cartwright/Lord Mayor/Chairman occasionally tripped over his tongue but recovered well. Rounding out the cast were Seth Kamerow as Bazzard/Mr. Philip Bax and Sarah Goodwin, Erica Hess, Megan Tisler, and Heather Neely as The Sparkling Ingenues. I should note that the cast did an excellent job of remaining in character when they mingled with the audience during the pre-show and intermission.

My main complaint with the production was technical. The musicians were over-amplified, making it difficult to hear the words the actors were singing (better enunciation would have helped as well). The costumes were occasionally off-period, and more ill-fitting (especially on the larger busted ladies, who looked to be nearly falling out of their tops). So who did what technically? The production was directed by Fred Helsel, produced by Fred Helsel and Linda Gray. Musical direction was by Gary Poirot, with vocal direction by Bonnie Graeve and choreography by Alexandra R. Lastort. The effective lighting design was by Christian West, costumbe by Randon Pool, and scenery by Fred Helsel.

Tonight is the last night of the production.

Dining Notes: Dinner last night was at Reds BBQ in Simi. Quite tasty. Highly recommended.

Speaking of upcoming shows, here’s how our calendar is looking: We have a break before our next show, which is “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 11/3 @ 2:00pm. The rest of November is taken up by other activities: 30th High School Reunion, Thomas at OERM, and isn’t programmed. Theatre starts up again in December, with “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm; Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm; and the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and maybe 12/8 @ 5pm.