Last week, the Wittenberg Theater and Dance department put on a production of the musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” There were four performances in the Chakeres Memorial Theatre on campus, April 10-13. Each performance potentially had unique endings, due the integration of audience participation. The audience ultimately decided a cast member to play the inspector looking into the disappearance of the title character, as well as the murderer and a couple to have a romantic relationship.
“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” itself, is the last story written by Charles Dickens. It was, however, left unfinished at the time of his death. The play, often simply called “Drood,” was conceived as a play within a play, with actors playing actors in a production of the mystery and a variation in the second act determined by the audience’s votes. Student actors stayed in character and interacted with the theater’s patrons throughout the performance.
The costumes truly created the atmosphere on the stage, changing college students into old school English citizens. The play was kitschy and fun, featuring many high-energy choreographed musical numbers. Much of the play made use of tongue-in-cheek humor, and the setting of the crypt was host to several of Dickens’ other characters’ graves.
Chakeres did not provide the ideal setting for this performance; the stage itself had to be built for the show to be hosted there. The orchestra was just to the left of the risers, which made it difficult to hear the words of the singers for audience members on that side. An otherwise powerful singing performance, from Ben Holbrook, who played the dastardly John Jasper, was offset by altered sound from his faulty microphone during some of the showings. A couple of the other mikes also had problems. Sarah Van Deusen (Edwin Drood), Haley Justice (Helena Landless), and Alyssa Lane (Rosa Budd) gave good performances.
Some of the humor fell flat, but purposely so. It was funny because the jokes were not funny. Situational humor came in scenes that featured the characters Princess Puffer and Durdles, played by Danielle O’Neill and Adam Barstow, respectively.
Putting on the show was a large collaborative effort, with work put in by artistic staff, cast, orchestra, production staff, costume and make-up crew, the scenery and lighting crew, theatre and dance faculty and staff, poster designer, publicity staff, and music faculty and staff; with many people filling more than one role. The blood, sweat, and tears put into this production did not go to waste, and many viewers enjoyed the play. I felt that there were many things that the play succeeded in accomplishing, but I did not walk away singing the songs, and I thought that the show would have been more enjoyable if it had been put on in a different venue.