It’s the solve-it yourself Broadway Musical!
One of the first musicals I ever saw–and still one of my top ten favorites–is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which played in Syracuse at the Civic Center on October 17 & 18, 1988. I was drawn to it because it was a murder mystery and was thrilled to discover that we, the audience, chose the ending.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, or just Drood–as it’s more recently known, first premiered on Broadway in 1986, starring Betty Buckley as the title character. How you might ask? The musical is staged as a play within a play. In the opening number, a thoroughly British musical hall welcomes the audience to their theatre for a performance of Charles Dickens’ last tale.
Several Broadway names–George Rose, Howard McGillin, Judy Kuhn, Donna Murphy, and Cleo Laine–appeared as the musical hall’s troupe of actors who took on the roles of the key characters in the Drood story. Buckley is the temperamental Miss Alice Nutting protraying Edwin Drood. A fun moment occurs when the cast is given their one opportunity to vote on the course of the show. Is Drood alive or dead? Only Buckley as Nutting votes “alive.” Outvoted, she storms off in a snit.
The music is lively and at times deliciously melodramatic. Moonfall has got to be one of the hardest songs for any soprano to sing. The Princess Puffer’s delightful The Wages of Sin ends with a bit of audiene participation. Both Sides of the Coin is a tongue twister of a song sung with breathtaking speed by McGillin and Rose. George Rose famously sang another high speed, tongue twisting song in his excellent protrayal, and best known role, of the Major-General in The Pirates of Penzance. The perfectly ominous No Good From Bad precedes the “murder,” and The Name of Love/Moonfall end Act I in dramatic fashion.
The songs in Act II aren’t quite as strong, but here, it’s all about the mystery. The audience follows the clues, considers the performances, and ultimately decides three things: who killed Edwin Drood, who is the mysterious Dick Datchery, and who shall be tonight’s lovers. There must be a happy ending after all.
The show presents a myriad of clues and possibilities. Drood was wearing his uncle’s coat the night he disappeared. Was he the intended victim or was he mistaken for his uncle? Some characters have a motive to off Drood, but more than a few of them have motive to kill Drood’s uncle, John Jasper.
Sadly, I missed the Broadway production, but the tour that came through Syracuse certainly ignited my budding interest in murder mysteries. It wasn’t long before I snagged a cassette of the Broadway performance to listen to regularly. I’ve since upgraded to the CD–of course–which includes an additional ending!
By the way–the night I saw Drood–the Syracuse audience chose Helena Landless (also my pick) as the murderer, Bazzard as Datchery, and bizzarely, the Princess Puffer and Deputy as the lovers.