Review of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’

In what is possibly the biggest cliffhanger in literary history, the legendary Charles Dickens laid down his pen and died while in the middle of his final novel. With a lively cast and skilled orchestra, Woodgrove High School tackled this cliffhanger and enlisted the audience’s help to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, written by Peter Holmes, premiered on Broadway in 1985 and took home five Tony’s that year, including Best Musical. It was the first Broadway musical with multiple endings to be determined by audience vote. This unusual style of ending is due to the fact that The Mystery of Edwin Drood was never completed. So when the cast reaches the infamous cliffhanger, they turn the decision of what happens next over to the audience, leading to a climactic conclusion.

In the metatheatrical musical the characters are played by the company of the fictional “Music Hall Royale”. The Chairman who serves as the show’s narrator and as the town’s Mayor Sapsea was played by Wyatt Ellerbeck. Ellerbeck’s comfort on stage was evident through his effortless humor and commendable suaveness. His sidekick, the silent stage manager, played by Lauren Bogle, was constantly in character and always enjoyable to watch. The Chairman begins the show by introducing the choirmaster, John Jasper (Dillon Douglasson). Jasper is madly in love with his pupil, the lovely Rosa Bud (Madaleine Goggin), but Rosa has been engaged to Jasper’s nephew, the titular Edwin Drood (Clare King), since they were children. The Reverend Crisparkle (Josh Shourds) introduces his new charges from Ceylon, the Landless twins, Helena and Neville (Molly Warndorf, Josh Wilk). The hot-tempered, although quite comedic, Neville quickly develops an interest for Rosa threatening Drood. After a heated
Christmas Eve dinner, Edwin Drood is nowhere to be found and is assumed murdered. All these characters and more become suspects in the murder, but the identity of the true culprit is left up to the audience.

As John Jasper, Dillon Douglasson took the role of “mad man” to new heights. Every calculated twitch and tic were thoughtfully executed. Douglasson’s controlled creepiness combined with his powerful voice culminated into one of the strongest performances of the evening. His lunacy and expert physicality was brought out in “A Man Could Go Quite Mad” and Douglasson continued to impress with his abilities in the incredibly fast paced “Both Sides of the Coin.” Equally impressive in the challenging number was Douglasson’s duet partner, the aforementioned Wyatt Ellerbeck. The two actors’ exceptional energy in “Both Sides of the Coin” and the show as a whole made their performances most memorable.

The show allows for many performers to be showcased in larger roles. Caroline Roden shined as the Princess Puffer, the owner of an Opium Den. Her larger-than-life presence on stage and range of emotions made her a hit with the audience. The audience also fell for the clownish Durdles (Sarah Rector) and the over the top Bazzard (Jon Wilkerson). Rector and Wilkerson commanded the stage in their smaller roles creating two unforgettable characters.

I have read “The Writing on the Wall” and it says that Woodgrove High School’s high energy production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood was an exciting evening of music, mystique, and murder.