This show has some of the best performances this season. All of the characters playing the Dickinson roles also fall out of character into their role as actors in the music hall production. For brevity’s sake, I will only refer to them here under the name of their Dickinson role.
Theater goddess, Chita Rivera, is at her best at almost 80 years old. She has a gleam in her eye and the gams of a 17-year-old. She plays Princess Puffer, the proprietress of an opium den. (She also happened to be voted the killer the night I saw the show. I never thought I would hear Chita Rivera booed on stage.)
Stephanie J Block is handsome as Edwin Drood and you will marvel at her lush and silky voice and commanding presence. The sprightly Jim Norton as the Chairman, or MC, gives a rapid-fire delivery of corny jokes that you have heard so many times before, and yet, when he delivers them, you still laugh. When he teams up with Jasper, Edwin Drood’s uncle (played point on by Will Chase), for “Both Sides of the Coin,” the results are popping with plosives.
Jessie Mueller and Andy Karl are the cosmetically bronzed Helena and Neville Landless, straight off the boat from Ceylon. They delight with their Bollywood-style arm and hand moves and their pursed lipped sideways glares to the audience.
As Drood’s intended, Rosa Bud, Betsy Wolfe stunningly sings “Moon Fall.” She then has a great time during the evening’s voting trying to convince everyone that she is herself the killer. Much to her consternation, the evening I saw it she wound up as one of the two lovers and was paired this evening with the youngest member of the cast, Deputy, the unrefined assistant to the gravedigger, played by the adorable Nicholas Barasch. Watching them play off one another tickled me.
Also in the cast is Broadway veteran Gregg Edelman as the giddy Reverend Mr. Crisparkle, Robert Creighton as the disheveled and dingy grave digger, Durdles and Peter Benson, who plays Bazzard. His music hall character, Mr. Phillip Bax, elicits just the right amount of pity in his never-ending search for a bigger role.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is tautly directed by Scott Ellis, yet still allows for the free-spirited casual exchange between the actors playing the Dickinson characters and the audience.
Studio 54 itself is decked out for the holidays with the boxes on either side of the proscenium festooned in red velvet bunting, replete with holiday greens and period chandeliers.The set itself, frequently nothing more than a simple drop or flat, designed by Anna Louizos provides a retinal rapture when paired with Brian Nason’s subtle and nuanced lighting. William Ivey Long’s perfectly appointed and lush costumes complete the Dickensian picture.
Holmes's score for The Mystery of Edwin Drood is full of gems, including “Moon Fall,” “The Wages of Sin” and “Off to the Races,” just to name a few of my favorites. You will leave the theater satisfied, floating on air, and humming the score. Thank you Roundabout Theatre Company for this delightful musical confectionary holiday gift.