The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

At Goodspeed

By: - May 06, 2024

Goodspeed has turned into The Music Hall Royale, circa 1895, for a thoroughly enjoyable production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. All that is needed is some good British ale.

The premise of this musical-within-a-musical is simple: The music hall is presenting a production based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

It is how they go about it that makes this such fun.

Since Dickens did not even leave notes of how the mystery would be solved, The Royale will let the audience vote on who the murderer was. As in any good mystery, you have a variety of suspects, each with a plausible motive.

British  Music Halls, somewhat similar to our vaudeville, usually had a company of regular performers, some “rude” humor, and a variety of songs. A popular feature was the male impersonator, a female actor whose specialty was performing male roles.

Of course, The Royale has its own – Alice Nutting (played splendidly by Mamie Parris) as Edwin Drood.  If only she were taller, it would be even more convincing.

Even before the show starts, you are introduced to the company of performers at the musical hall. They circulate in the audience, interacting with patrons like they were old friends, which they probably were.

The cast carries off the dual roles of a specific performer and the character they play in the mystery, though the British accents sometimes slip.  At important moments in the mystery, the action halts momentarily while the character takes a stylized pose, similar to silent films. These looks become increasingly funny throughout the evening.

Lenny Wolfe oversees the evening as the Chairman (emcee) with humor and enthusiasm, which pulls the audience into the show’s mood. He is exasperated, though, when called upon to fill in for an actor who is “indisposed” (meaning drunk).

While the cast plays both the Music Hall performers we know them best as their roles in the mystery.

The plot of the mystery – the disappearance of the young man-about-town Edwin Drood — is as convoluted and illogical as any Agatha Christie novel. We have his uncle John Jasper, a piano and voice teacher with hidden vices; a brother and sister newly arrived from Ceylon; Drood’s fiancé, Rosa Budd; the local clergyman; and some townspeople. Dickens added in Princess Puffer, a fallen woman who oversees an opium den in London.

It’s a tribute to his talent that  Rubert Holmes, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, ties these disparate characters together. That is not to say this is a perfect musical; Act One is overly long, and except for one or two numbers, the score is serviceable rather than memorable. Even so, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was the Tony-winning Best Musical of 1986.

The charm of this production is dependent on the performers, director, and production team.

The accomplished Rob Ruggiero has assembled both an excellent cast and production team. The scenic design by Ann Beyersdorfer is a convincing music hall of the period, which bears a resemblance to the Goodspeed theater.  It almost seems like you are looking at a mirror image of the theater. Jay Hilton’s sound design balances onstage action and the action in the aisle; everything is audible. Hunter Kaczoroski’s costumes feature the bustles that must have made it difficult for women not to bump into each other. Also excellent was the lighting design by Bob Denton.

Ruggiero and choreographer James Gray keep the storyline as clear as possible while adding some terrific dancing. It would be easy to play the mystery with a wink and giggle; Ruggiero ensures that doesn’t happen.

The cast is more of an ensemble of equals. Two standouts, with Wolfe as the Chairman, are the villainous Jasper, played with equal parts charm and evil by Paul Adam Schaefer, and Princess Puffer, played by Liz McCartney.  Yet that omits the fine performances of the others.

For me, the best parts of the score are those reminiscent of the music hall era – from “Off to the Races” to Puffer’s “The Wages of Sin,” to “Both Sides of the Coin,” and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.”  

This is my fourth production of the show; each time I’ve been in the audience, a different suspect has been identified as the murderer.

You can get tickets at The show runs through Sunday, June 2.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and