Review by Michelle Sutton
Alexander Andrews directs Little Triangle’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Seymour Centre. The musical first debuted in 1985 with book, music and lyrics all written by Rupert Holmes and went on to win many Tony Awards. Little Triangle presents the 2012 Broadway Revival version of the musical.
The premise of the show is intriguing: a murder mystery musical, based on a novel Charles Dickens was working on and left behind unfinished at the time of his death in 1870. Shortly after his death the story was found with half of the planned chapters written and no notes or drafts indicating the way he had planned to end the story or showing if he had even come up with an ending before he died. The production embraces this ambiguity and involves the audience in the “choose-your-own-adventure musical”.
The band, led by musical director Andy Freeborn is excellent, and the members get involved in the theatrics on stage. There is no doubt that the entire ensemble is extremely talented, with no weak vocal or acting performance amongst them. Simon Ward excels as Reverend Crisparkle, his comedic line delivery a soaring highlight of every single scene he is in. I wished he had been utilised more throughout the play. Phoebe Clark’s beautiful and haunting vocals are a wonderful fit for Rosa Bud whilst Lucy Ross is a breath of fresh air playing an enthusiastic crew member. Zachary Aleksander does a wonderful job as the charismatic and villainous John Jasper.
Performing the show in the intimate Reginald Theatre has its pros and cons. The sparse black stage and visible sets and lights are the perfect backdrop for a show about theatre, and reminds the audience that it is meant to feel like a rehearsal, with parts that are alive and changing all the time. However, the small size of the theatre means that the 14-person cast plus 3-person band on the stage often feels a little overwhelming and suffocating.
Although the musical has some very fun and funny moments, there are also moments that drag and feel arduous. There are so many solid components in this production, from the exceptional cast, to the clever staging and flawless band, that on paper it should work however I fear the play may have too much going on for the audience to be able to actually enjoy it. The first act of the musical runs for an exhausting 1 hour and 20 minutes, with the second act running for approximately 40 minutes. The first act involves a large amount of narration and exposition, filling in the blanks, providing context and introducing not only each character in the 14-person ensemble but also the names of the actor who plays each character. This is a very fun concept but in reality requires the audience to concentrate and focus on absorbing facts for a very long amount of time which detracts from time to get involved in the narrative. The fact that the show is unfinished, thus the audience themselves are responsible for picking who is responsible for the murder is the primary gimmick and hook of the show, something a bit silly and exciting that sets it apart from other musicals, however by the time it rolls around to that point, the audiences is exhausted and the last few songs, performed by whomever the audience “votes” is rushed and anti-climactic. This is a real shame as it should be the high-point of the show, with anticipation building throughout. Unfortunately, there is so much constant explanation of what is happening, that the audience doesn’t get the opportunity to sit back, relax and simply enjoy it, instead their brains are working overtime to try and process all of the information being presented. I think the show could have benefitted greatly from a simpler directorial approach with different pacing and less talking at the audience, thus creating more time and space to appreciate the performers.
The cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is incredibly talented, with strong vocals and stage presence across the board. There are some entertaining moments however there are sections of the show that feel laborious and taxing. It is an ambitious show to stage, and I commend Little Triangle for their committed and enthusiastic effort.
Image Credit: Clare Hawley