THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROODBook, Music and Lyrics by Rupert Holmes
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Director – Jason Morgan
Music Director – Lauren Morgan
Choreographer – Stefanie Glenn
Set Designers – Jason and Lauren Morgan
Lighting Designer – Rachel Hartzler
Properties Designer – Jennifer Stewart
Costume Designer – Lauren Morgan
Stage Manager – Traci Clements
Mr. William Cartwright/Mayor Thomas Sapsea – Tom DeWester
Miss Alice Nutting/Edwin Drood – Lee Jamison
Mr. Clive Paget/John Jasper – Stan Graner
Miss Deirdre Peregrine/Rosa Bud – Lauren Morgan
Miss Angela Prysock/Princess Puffer – Janette L. Oswald
Miss Janet Conover/Helena Landless – Karen Matheny
Mr. Victor Grinstead/Neville Landless – Alex Krus
Mr.Cedric Moncrieffe/Reverend Crisparkle – Dan Nolen, Jr.
Mr. Phillip Bax/Bazzard – Shane Hurst
Mr. Nick Cricker, Sr./Durdles – Gary Payne
Master Nick Cricker/Deputy – Tyler Martinelli
Miss Isabel Yearsley/Wendy – Jessica Taylor
Miss Florence Gill/Beatrice – Jennie Jermaine
Mr. James Throttle/Horace – Bryan S. Douglas
Miss Violet Balfour/Citizen of Cloisterham – Katy Pearce Hill
Mr. Alan Eliot/Citizen of Cloisterham – Chapman Blake
Reviewed Performance: 10/17/2014
Reviewed by Larry Ukolowicz, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel of Charles Dickens. The work was unfinished at the time of his death, June 9, 1870, and his ending for it is unknown. Supplying a conclusion to the book has occupied writers’ time from Dicken’s death to present day. The most unusual attempt to complete the story came from a young Vermont printer, Thomas James in 1873. James published a version which he claimed he’d literally ghost written, channeling Dicken’s spirit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock fame, praised it, while others, like scholar John C. Walters, dismissed it with contempt. James’ attempt has since been swept under the carpet as a nice try.
Drood, from novel to musical, swept the Tonys in 1986 with five awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. It starred the incomparable, Texas born Betty Buckley, Ronn Carroll, and great character actor George Rose . Mr. Rose took home the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
Pop songwriter Rupert Holmes, widely known for his number one pop hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, took home two Tony Awards for his work in refashioning the novel into a live parlor game for theatergoers. Fitting into the same category as Clue, The Musical, the crucial question – who slew Edwin Drood? - targets the audience in the show’s finale, leaving it up to them to choose the murderer. Did the mysterious Princess Puffer do the deed? Or was it the exotic Helena Landless? No, wait; maybe it was Rosa Bud, the dew-dappled ingénue. You will never know if you don’t attend a performance and put in your vote! In any event, this extravaganza by Stolen Shakespeare Guild is winsome and wild, and would have been nearly perfect except for the recorded music that overpowered the actors. My friend and I heard and understood maybe one fourth of the lyrics due to the imbalance. This production desperately needs to be miked. Regardless of the music flaw, the show is a visual knockout!
Director Jason Morgan keeps the action moving remarkably well, even though Act Two is choppy and interrupted by voting for the murderer. But Mr. Morgan ingeniously uses the character of Mr. William Cartwright, the Master of Ceremonies, to fill in the gaps, much like the character of Emcee in Cabaret.
This Chairperson of the music hall troupe, William Cartwright, is gloriously performed by Tom DeWester. He carries much of the dialogue and is in charge of keeping the pace moving. Mr. DeWester’s acting is sublime and he’s quick with a joke and an ad-lib when needed. In the musical, Cartwright is suddenly called upon to double as Mayor Thomas Sapsea since the actor in the troupe was getting drunk in the back of the music hall. It was hilarious watching Mr. DeWester switch characters at the drop of a hat.
The troupe’s male lead, Clive Paget, plays John Jasper, the choirmaster of Cloisterham Cathedral and uncle of Edwin Drood. Paget and Jasper are both portrayed by Stan Graner. He gives Paget a devilish attractiveness with nose in the air, and Jasper a madness that lurks beneath his smooth, sleazy exterior and evil, dark stare. Mr. Graner plays evil so very well.
Lee Jamison plays the prima donna Alice Nutting, who is London’s leading male impersonator, to perfection. She is charming and determined but, as you might expect, with a lot of ego. Ms. Jamison’s interpretation of Edwin Drood is a man of means who is attractive, rich and popular, and she gives him a gentle smile and a heart of gold.
Lauren Morgan portrays the not-so-innocent, ingénue actress of the acting troupe, Deirdre Peregrine, with the proper bump and grind needed for the part. However, Ms. Morgan also portrays Drood’s love interest, the young, beautiful, and apparently fragile Rosa Bud with great warmth and innocence. She is betrothed to Edwin Drood, the only man who is NOT in love with her. Ms. Morgan’s vocal talent is to be admired. I am in awe of her voice.
Janette L. Oswald gives a gorgeous performance as Angela Prysock, a favorite of London audiences and a staple of the stage. Ms. Oswald is a gifted actor with a true talent in comic timing. She also plays the mysterious Princess Puffer, a madam and opium dealer and general purveyor of vice of all kinds. (I voted for her as the murderer!)
I want to give a double-bill salute to Karen Matheny and Alex Krus who portray twin brother and sister, Neville and Helena Landless. I have no doubt whatsoever that the characters are real siblings by the way the actors play off each other with great finesse. Ms. Matheny’s mysterious facial expressions, with raised eyebrows and squinted eyes, are hysterical, while Mr. Krus’ double takes are flawless.
Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe, one of the elders of the troupe, plays Reverend Crisparkle, an archetypal vicar who is also a bit of a lurker and was in love with Rosa Bud’s mother. These two characters are portrayed by Dan Nolen, Jr. with the proper amount of high energy as a troupe member, and a very subdued proper Christian attitude as the vicar.
Mr. Shane Hurst plays troupe member Mr. Phillip Bax and character Bazzard brilliantly. Mr. Hurst gives Bax and Bazzard real heart as devotee of the theatre, the everlasting understudy that finally gets his moment. Mr. Hurst also gives his characters a sad sack clown quality that is wonderfully played. The audience went wild when he is finally given the chance to perform a solo, and rightfully so. His voice is amazing.
Troupe member Mr. Nick Cricker plays Durdles, the crown prince of the actors and Mr. Gary Payne plays him to the limits of comical wonderment. Mr. Payne makes the most of each line and plays the drunkard with a great deal of pizzazz.
The remaining ensemble cast is right on the money, with wit, charm and vivaciousness, and are obviously having as much fun on stage as the audience was in their seats.
Costumes by Lauren Morgan are some of the best I have seen this year. The period pieces are beautifully tailored to fit each actor. The ladies are clothed in gorgeous period dresses of silks and satins, complete with bustles. The men are in waistcoats and tails of wools and velvets. All are feasts for the eyes.
Choreography by Stefanie Glenn is simplistic but very in tune with the bawdiness of a Victorian music hall, inclusive of fancy dancers that do bell steps (clicking heels together while in midair) and girls grinding and bumping. In one Opium-induced dream sequence, a wonderful ballet was choreographed to show the horrors of being under the drug’s influence. The dancing meshes in beautifully with the action.
Set design by Jason and Lauren Morgan uses moveable mini-stages on wheels that, with a 180 degree spin, turn the stage walls into completely different locations. One wall is turned and becomes the opium den of Princess Puffer, with dark wood walls and a dark, concrete floor. Another wall is turned and becomes the dining room for a Christmas dinner scene, complete with table and six chairs. When scenes end, the moveable stages turn to become the walls of the theatre again.
Lights by Rachel Hartzler are very intricate. Drood, being a play within a play, has many and varied moods just by the design of the play itself. The somber, willful world of the Choirmaster is lit darkly, giving John Jasper’s character a very mysterious feel. The love songs are brightly lit with spots. The graveyard scene is spookily lit in shadowy gray hues. Ensemble songs are well illuminated in a pinkish hue.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood offers many wonderful theatrical gimmicks which include not only the choosing of the murderer but also the selection of a detective and the pairing of a happy couple. Once again, Stolen Shakespeare Guild steps up to the plate with another quality offering in the Fort Worth theatre scene. Thanks for another wonderful evening.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Plays through November 2nd
Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 2:00 pm
There is no show on October 31st.
Evening ticket prices are $19.00, $18.00 for seniors 65+, $17.00 for student w/ ID, and $10.00 for children 7 and under (if available). Matinee tickets are $15.00 for all.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.stolenshakespeareguild.org, or call Theatre Mania at 1-866-811-4111.