Interactive musical sure to engage audience

Ben Kaufman, Senior Editor

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a musical based on the book of the same title by Charles Dickens, premieres tonight at 8 in Harvey M. Powers Theatre.

Emily Hooper ’14, one of the stars of the show, said that it is a show within a show about this murder mystery where each actor has at least two roles to play.

 

“As soon as the audience steps into the theatre, they will have entered the 1890s, where the theatre company at the Musical Hall Royale is putting on the very first musical production of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood,’” Hooper said. “Cast-members welcome the audience and interact with them before the melodrama begins. The melodrama itself revolves around Edwin Drood and several other suspicious characters that all have the potential to murder him.”

Gary Grant, professor of theatre and director of the musical this year, said that Dickens died before he could finish the story, which meant that there is no official ending to the story. To create an ending, writer Rupert Holmes wrote a musical based on this story and created alternative endings for the audience to choose from and freely interpret.

“When Dickens died, several theatre companies immediately picked up the rights to this novel and turned it into a stage play,” Grant said. “In 1985, Rupert Holmes decided to write a musical version of the story, but his solution to the ending is to let the audience decide who did the murder.”

Because of this atypical style, Grant said that there are multiple endings to the story, as well as various scenes that have multiple interpretations, depending on what the audience decides is most conducive to that performance. Each actor also has at least two different roles.

“I’m playing Miss Alice Nutting, London’s leading male impersonator, who has been brought in by the Music Hall Royale especially to portray the ‘lead boy,’ Edwin Drood,” Hooper said. “As music hall characters, we can be personable and realistic in our interactions with the audience, and in the melodrama, we become, well … melodramatic!”

Sheridan Gates ’14 and Michael Strauss ’14, who will also star in the show, said that a major component that separates this show from other shows is audience participation.

“The audience has the ability to vote on who the mystery detective character is played by, who the murderer is, and who falls in love,” Gates said. “We, the actors, have to be prepared to perform whatever ending the audience chooses on the spot.”

“The show is different because of the audience participation,” Strauss said. “The intent is really to blend the lines between audience and actors and create an environment that represents what one would experience when attending a music hall performance in 1890s London.”

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is the main-stage production at the University. The department of theatre and dance performs a musical every other year.

“The main-stage productions are directed by faculty or senior students,” Grant said. “That is usually different from what we call showcases, which is for students who are learning these different areas.”

Past main-stage productions include “Black Comedy,” “Macbeth,” “The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” and “The Wild Party.”

“This show has more audience interaction than anything I’ve ever been in before,” Hooper said. “It’s a blast to be able to break out of our melodrama characters and talk to the audience as our music hall characters.”

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