Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 23, 2024

Review: Goodspeed Musicals, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

Goodspeed Opera House, Haddam, CT
through June 2, 2024
by R.E. Smith

Bouyant, playful, high-spirited and a little bit naughty, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is the type of musical that is becoming increasingly rare: one that doesn’t take itself too seriously or try to earnestly deliver a deep moral lesson. In fact, it revels in the idea that Dicken’s never actually finished the namesake novel, leaving the audience to decide the ending, setting the show on a foundation of chaotic energy. 

Rupert Homes won multiple Tonys for the original Broadway production including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. Before you reach for the Google, this IS the same Rupert Homes who wrote and performed the 1980’s hit “The Pina Colda Song”. But his musical background is quite varied and, being British by birth, he took inspiration from Dicken’s London and 1800’s music halls.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Interesting to note is that the most successful songs are not actually connected to the “mystery” part of the script but rather the English pantomime tradition of the framing device. “There You Are”, “Off to the Races,” “An English Music Hall” and “The Writing On the Wall” have the peculiar effect of being so genre-familiar that the audience wants to sing along, even if they don’t know the words.

All this opens the book up to a much lighter tone than the Dickens’s source material. Holmes has said that “the musical is to the novel what “Kiss Me Kate” is to the “Taming of the Shrew”. Exaggerated melodrama, double entendres, split personalities, hiss-abale villains, and broad stereotypes (gleefully acknowledged) abound.

A few characters are crafted to be audience favorites and the performers at Goodpseed do not disappoint. Liz McCartney as Princess Puffer, David Beach as Durdles, and Jamie LaVerdiere as Bazzard each have smaller, but memorable roles, with cracker-jack comedic timing and crowd-pleasing numbers. Lenny Wolpe as “the Chairman” is on-stage more than any other, serving as ringmaster, narrator and “stand-in”, and his energy is deceptively consistent throughout. He makes an immediate connection.

The costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski is vibrant and fun, Ann Beyersdorfer’s scenic design is at once modern, but nicely referencing the music hall setting. 

More than usual the cast is given the opportunity to connect with the audience and break the fourth wall. Often and repeatedly. Like a theatrical nesting doll, we’re watching actors, playing actors, playing characters in a mystery, set inside a music hall, staged at an Opera House.

All this makes for comedic hard work, but the entire cast makes it look effortless. The only unsolvable mystery with this show would be if someone was seen leaving the Opera House without a smile on their face!