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11/13/12

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Murder Never Looked So Awesome

It's not often that I enter a much-hyped show and, essentially, every single aspect of what I am about to see excites me on concept alone. 

It's even less frequent that they manage to deliver on the promise.

That just about sums up my experience at The Mystery of Edwin Drood, now officially open at Studio 54. Based on the unfinished novel of the same name, it was a foregone conclusion I was going to LOVE this revival because some of my favorite things - the Victorian era, a murder mystery set to music, audience interaction, an ensemble cast - pretty much collided head-on to create outrageous levels of awesomesauce.

From a more objective standpoint, it's not flawless per say (then again, what is?). There are moments where the dialogue and story become too inaccessible to follow with 100% comprehension. It's a credit to the show that the accents, the dialogue - well, damn near everything - is so polished and right out of the 1870's. But on more then one occasion, I was close to throwing my hands up in the air and screaming, "what the EFF is going on here?"

And, ironically might I add, the audience interaction and the voting was fun, but grew tiresome just as almost as it began. I mean, I voted for Chita Rivera as the murderer (or love interest) as much as the next guy every person in the audience, but aside from being a little too haphazard (raising your hand? Okaaaaaayyyy), it took the show out of its groove before resuming with the audience-generated closing scenes.

But that's it - the rest of it is just about as good as you can find out of a Broadway musical at the moment. The metatheatrical, "show within a show" aspect always was a stunning directing choice. Scott Ellis, the multi-talented director, maximizes its potential by having fun with the "out-of-character" moments and thus, lessening the severity of this could-have-been too overwhelming production. Even better, he doesn't lose the drama of the source material - there is palpable tension in the lead-up to the end. It's a pretty interesting trick he pulled off as I didn't feel thrown laughing my face off one minute, only to marvel at a beautifully crafted number the next.

Regarding the latter...well, full disclosure, I was with one of my lady BFFs and actually turned to her after the Dream Ballet number in Princess Puffer's house, just to exclaim, "that was UH-MAZ-ING." I meant every word - the musical performances in particular give the show a charge and each one is just as impeccable as the one before it.

And lets be honest, where else are you going to find such a pitch-perfect cast? Despite playing the title character, Stephanie J. Block doesn't have much stage time, but she camouflages into male drag with ease and her out-of-character departure from the show is easily one of the best scenes of forever. Will Chase's sleaze-ball undertone finally found a character, John Jasper, that works for him (because God knows I needed many bathes after watching his performance on Smash). To boot, that boy knows how to belt a note - his "A Man Could Go Quite Mad" number is particular engrossing - and during his character's climatic moments, his anguish is perfectly conveyed without slipping into narm or melodrama territory.

Hysterical doesn't even begin to describe Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller, whom play Neville and Helena Landless for comedic relief using well-timed audience vamping and facial ticks and gestures. The latter is really angling for another Tony nomination with her performance; quite frankly, she deserves one everytime she arches her (perfectly shaped) eyebrows. Girl just knew what she was doing and with her death stare-and-a-half; she's like a more fabulous version of Medusa.

Speaking of fabulous, Betsy Wolfe's voice could give angels their wings. In fact, that is at piece with her performance as Rosa: angelic. Her rendition of "Moonfall" was perfect and actually made me sit up and take notice - there was some appeal to her that drew me in when she could easily have gotten lost in the shuffle (and this absurdly talented cast).

As far as Chita Rivera, well...it's Chita. A little too famous around these parts and when combined with her awesomely divatastic performance as Princess Puffer, you never lose sight of who is on stage. But kudos to her and that cute ginger kid in the ensemble...word-of-mouth and Twitter reveals the two of them have been voted as the love interests many times, which has resulted in some slow-dancing and macking. It would be more awkward then it sounds, except they both are game and clearly having fun at the absurdity.

There's something to be said for a revival so well-presented - right down to Anna Louizo's gorgeous set and William Ivey Long's equally as gorgeous costumes - and so entertaining in a hair-tossing, "sit back and relax" kind of way. And with this revival paying homage to the classic Charles Dickens novel and doing it justice some 150 years after it was released, everyone wins really. Well, except for Dickens and that whole untimely death thing that he experienced. Or, as a post-modern smart-ass might say, the impetus for another day in the glorious and fun world of theatre!

Photo Credits: Joan Marcus

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