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The Blue & Gray Press | October 17, 2017

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UMW Theatre’s musical, ‘Drood,’ is an ambitious murder mystery

UMW Theatre’s musical, ‘Drood,’ is an ambitious murder mystery

By KELLY EMMRICH

Last Thursday night, locals, students and musical lovers congregated in duPont Hall for the premiere of the murder mystery musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was written by Charles Dickens. Dickens was still writing this final novel when he died in 1870. Rupert Holmes decided that it needed an ending. Holmes cooked up a musical with approximately 500 different directions that the musical could go in.

Holmes wrote the script, music, lyrics and full orchestrations of the show, a feat in which he was heavily praised in several publications. Drood was the first Broadway musical with several different endings, and, because of that, it won five Tony awards out of the 11 nominations.

The audience picks the ending, so through cheers and polling, the crowd votes each night to cast a murderer, detective and pair of lovers.

The University of Mary Washington cast has been rehearsing feverishly since casting in late August. The performance format is one of the biggest challenges that the theatre department has faced.

“It’s a very heightened acting style,” said Gregg Stull, department chair for the Department of Theatre and Dance, in an interview with Lisa Chinn Marvashti. “It’s a great exercise for our students to have to be in the moment and prepare themselves for the ending that the audience chooses.

Though the novel is named after the character Edwin Drood, the story focuses on Drood’s uncle, precentor, choirmaster and opium addict, John Jasper. Jasper is in love with his music pupil, Rosa Bud, who is Drood’s fiancée. Miss Bud has also caught the eye of the high-spirited and hot-tempered Neville Landless, who comes from Ceylon with his twin sister, Helena. Landless and Drood take an instant dislike to one another. Later, Drood disappears under mysterious circumstances. With obvious enemies and a mismatch of characters this musical makes out to be the perfect setup for a murder mystery.

In writing the script, Holmes did not let Dickens’ tone overshadow the characters. Rather than imitate Dickens’ writing style, Holmes employed the device of a show-within- a- show. The cast members of Drood do not specifically play Dickens’ characters, but rather music hall performers who are performing as Dickens’ characters. This device allowed for a great deal of light comedy that was not originally found in Dickens’ novel to be incorporated into the show, as well as several musical numbers that were unrelated to the original story.

In explaining this decision, Holmes was quoted as saying, “This is not Nicholas Nickleby set to music—it’s not a Dickensian work. It’s light and fun and entertaining. But I hope—I think– that Dickens would have enjoyed it.”

The pantomime concept also allowed Holmes to employ a female in the lead male role, which further allowed him to write a love song designed for two sopranos.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be playing through Nov 20.

Comments

  1. Although Rupert Holmes is best know for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, his most controversial song was “Timothy,” the 1971 hit by The Buoys. Many assumed “Timothy” was about the 1963 Sheppton mining disaster and vile allegations of cannibalism and the supernatural. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com