Prepare to be enchanted by a delightful cast-within-a-cast of whimsically comedic characters as they try to piece together the ending of Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The musical is the final feature in the [performance @ new college] 2022-23 season and opens at the Black Box Theatre (BBT) on Apr. 27 and is free to the public, but the Catalyst had the opportunity to view a rehearsal on Apr. 17.
The show features a collection of eccentric actors bringing to life the roles of Dickens characters: the self-assured young title character Edwin Drood, his off-kilter uncle John Jasper, the beautiful and soft-spoken Rosa Budd, the uninhibited vice-lady Princess Puff, the icy Landiss twins and the somewhat lecherous Reverend Chrisparkle. When Edwin goes missing halfway through the show, it’s up to the audience to decide who the culprit is.
Production Manager and Technical Director Tim O’Donnell describes the show as a “play within a play,” in which a late English 1800s music hall troupe not only recreates the novel, but asks the audience to write the ending by selecting an offender, an investigator and a pair of lovers to sing the final number. Actors frequently interact with the audience both as actors and as their characters, creating an immersive theatrical experience.
“I’ve been wanting for a long time to do an interactive show here, and it just checked so many boxes,” O’Donnell said. “It’s more of a traditional musical, it has the audience interaction and I also liked that because the play plays this game with male and female impersonation. You really could kind of cast it however you wanted to.”
The show features several different endings depending on who the audience chooses for which roles, and the actors have to have each of these endings rehearsed.
“A lot of people are terrified of producing this show because the ending seems so hard— they’re involved, but not hard,” O’Donnell said. It’s actually been a lot easier because the student actors in the show have really worked hard to make sure they know what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The musical features several elaborate song and dance numbers as well as elegant, period-accurate costumes designed and created by O’Donnell and the tech team.
“We have built 70% of the costumes from scratch,” O’Donnell said. “Everything you’ll see on stage is brand new, especially the women’s dresses.”
The musical runs at 7:30 p.m. in the BBT on Apr. 27, 28 and 29 with two matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Apr. 29 and 30. Additionally, the community was invited to two open dress rehearsals on Apr. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. Though the show is sold out, O’Donnell advises prospective audience members to “just show up.”
“We have a great history of getting people in,” he continued. “We will try to accommodate as best we can, especially students.”