Theater & Dance
Review
"The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Book, music and lyrics by: Rupert Holmes
Produced by: Sunnyvale Community Players
Featuring: Walter M. Mayes as The Chairman, Lea Schweitzer as Drood, Aaron Weisberg as Jasper, Glenna Murillo as Princess Puffer, Sam Nachison as Neville, Angela Cesena as Helena, Mike Cuddy as Rev. Crisparkle, Elizabeth McClelland as Rosa Bud, Gary Stanford Jr. as Bazzard, Keith Pennings as Durdles, Sam Saunders as The Deputy, and Matt Tipton as Throttle. Principal dancers: Cami Jackson, Breanna van Gastel, Indie Calderon, Minna Rogers. Ensemble: Robin Holbrook, Allison Zenke, Becky Brownson, Deborah Roth, Stacia Stuart, Greg Goebel, Zach Doyle, Greg Dutson, Jaake Margo, Matthew Hall
Direction and vocal direction by: Diane Milo
Musical direction by: Matthew Bourne
Choreography by: Esther Selk
When: April 4 through April 26, 2015
Where: Sunnyvale Theatre, Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 East Remington Drive, Sunnyvale, California
Tickets: $11-$27. Visit sunnyvaleplayers.org or call 408-733-6611

Weisberg, McClelland
Chris Berger / Sunnyvale Community Players
EWWW! Aaron Weisberg as John Jasper, left, and Elizabeth McClelland as Rosa Bud in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" as staged by Sunnyvale Community Players. The show runs April 4 through April 26, 2015.
'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'
makes for a Dickens of a time
Brilliant musical gets an uneven production
at Sunnyvale Community Players
April 5, 2015

The Sunnyvale Community Players have Rupert Holmes' brilliant "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" on stage through April 26, and y'all are well-advised to go see it.

It's not a perfect production — the sound mix and the orchestra need help — but it is so huge a confection of fun that the laughter, cheering and booing almost make up for the orchestra often being too loud, and sometimes sounding wheezy and/or off-key.

That's the kind of thing that can be fixed, and maybe it will be.

In the meantime, there is the play itself, which happened when Holmes, already a successful songwriter and performer, was asked by Gail Merrifield, director of play development at the New York Shakespeare Festival, to write a full-length musical.

Holmes, a mystery fan and familiar with the British "panto" shows, came up with the concept of taking Charles Dickens' unfinished novel, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (Dickens died before the serial novel was completed) and having it staged by a music hall troupe. Play within a play.

It's a brilliant concept, because it allows the original grim Dickens mystery to be staged, but with lots of laughs because of the "Music Hall Royale."

For instance, there is Jasper, the creepy music master of Dickens' tale, who has the hots for the innocent Rosa Bud. Jasper is played by Music Hall Royale actor Clive Paget, who is a smiling ham who adores the attention of the audience. But, the Music Hall Royale has cue cards for the audience, and we know to "BOO!" or even "BOO!!!!" when the cards are held up for Jasper. It's hilarious and really gets the audience involved. Aaron Weisberg is excellent in the role, drawing "EWW!"s from the audience when he writes a smarmy song he forces Rosa Bud to sing, but getting plenty of laughs for his goofy Clive character.

The panto troupe comes in and out of the play, often under the direction of its Chairman William Cartwright, who also steps into the Dickens tale as Mayor Sapsea, when the actor who usually plays the role has gotten into a drunken brawl. Walter Mayes, who is very tall (and sometimes performs as Walter the Giant), uses the cane meant for the much-shorter actor, and Mayes milks the short-cane joke for lots of laughs. Fine physical comedy. As The Chairman, he also delivers some punny jokes.

The late, great John Belushi is channeled to amusing effect by two cast members, Mike Cuddy, who plays Cedric Moncrieffe, who plays the Rev. Crisparkle; and Sam Nachison, who plays Victor Grinstead, who plays Neville Landless. Both of these guys look a little like Belushi, and it's almost like watching Belushi in two different "Saturday Night Live" sketches. Cuddy is more restrained, but Nachison goes full-blown Belushi, with the bouncing eyebrows and glaring at other characters and at the audience.

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In both cases, it works very well with this goofy and brilliant play.

Elizabeth McClelland, a fine actor and singer, is sufficiently compelling as Deirdre Peregrine, who plays Rosa Bud, that the "EWW!"s from the audience when Jasper touches her are enthusiastic.

Another fine actor/singer, Lea Schweitzer, plays Alice Nutting, who plays Edwin Drood. Glenna Murillo swings a mean swagger stick as Angela Prysock, who plays Princess Puffer, an opium-selling dominatrix.

The Sunnyvale Community Theater auditorium itself is almost a character in the play, because its steep audience sight lines make it feel intimate, such as a I imagine a British panto theater might be.

That feeling is hugely encouraged by the presence of much of the cast in the audience quite often, especially the four beautiful principal dancers, Cami Jackson, Minna Rogers, Breanna van Gastel and Indie Calderon.

Overall, a fine cast.

The story has Drood visiting his uncle, Jasper. Drood is betrothed to Rosa Bud, which really bugs Jasper, and truth be told, neither Drood nor Rosa Bud want the marriage. Then Landless shows up, gets the immediate hots for Rosa Bud, whose honor must be defended. Stuff happens, and Drood disappears, although the coat he'd been wearing, slashed by a knife and covered in blood, is found.

Mystery fans may realize that they've already seen a number of clues, not that it matters in this nutty play. Six months pass.

When the end of Dickens' contribution to the story is reached, the music hall troupe turns to the audience to decide a number of trailing issues, including, is Drood alive or dead? Who is the detective, Dick Datchery? What two characters, among key cast members, should have a happy romance together? And, who murdered Edwin Drood?

The voting takes place while a number of the cast squeeze into the audience for at least one vote, and hands are held over head for applause for some others. Director Diane Milo, in her program note, says that an actor in a recent Broadway revival of "Drood" calculated that there are 346 different ways the show can play out.

In some iterations of this show, there are as many as eight possible murderers, and Holmes wrote material for all of them, and each actor in those parts must be prepared to deliver that material.

I have to wonder how all the voting worked in a big Broadway theater.

Holmes quite obviously had a lot of fun with this show, which is seen in all the cornball panto material, but also in the music. There's a wide variety of types of songs, from "There You Are" to greet the audience, and "A Man Could Go Quite Mad" to introduce us to the crazy Jasper, to "No Good Can Come From Bad" and "Don't Quite While You're Ahead."

But what's also fascinating is how Holmes flexes his composer muscles on such tunes as "Moonfall Quartet," which has four singers delivering four melody lines at the same time.

Holmes gets quite complex with his countermelodies, a fine piece of work altogether.

Holmes got to take home the Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score. The show also won for Best Musical, Best Direction, and Best Actor in a Leading Role. It received six other nominations.

I very much liked the costumes, by Jen Maggio, and thought Marc Wheeler's set, while not as elaborate as it might have been, worked well enough.

"Drood" is not often produced, probably because it requires a huge cast, so go see it in Sunnyvale while you have the chance.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Pennings, Mayes
Chris Berger / Sunnyvale Community Players
Keith Pennings as Durdles, left, and Walter M. Mayes as Chairman in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" at Sunnyvale Community Players. The show runs April 4 through April 26, 2015.
schweitzer, McClelland
Chris Berger / Sunnyvale Community Players
Lea Schweitzer as Edwin Drood, left, and Elizabeth McClelland as Rosa Bud in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" as staged by Sunnyvale Community Players. The show runs April 4 through April 26, 2015.
Pennings, Mayes, Saunders
Chris Berger / Sunnyvale Community Players
Keith Pennings as Durdles, Walter M. Mayes as Chairman, and Sam Saunders as Deputy, from left in the middle, surrounded by the ensemble of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" as staged by Sunnyvale Community Players. The show runs April 4 through April 26, 2015.


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