Charles Dickens had the audacity to die with his final novel unfinished, leaving “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” an unsolved one. This weekend, Savoyards Ithaca performs the most famous adaptation, a musical that lets the audience decide how it ends.
After Dickens died in 1870, several authors and publishers tried to finish the tale, and one version, published by Vermont printer Thomas James, claimed to have been “ghost-written” by James channeling the author’s spirit. No less a mystery writer than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle praised the “finished” work, which left it a common version in the U.S.
It wasn’t until over a century later that playwright Rupert Holmes devised a stage production, set to music, with the novel approach of asking the audience to vote among the likely suspects. As staged first by the New York Shakespeare Festival, and then on Broadway, the story thus varied from night to night, as the cast would have to perform one of several different endings depending on the results of that night’s vote.
“One of the most inventive, inspired, and rousing musicals ever devised,” according to theater critic Matt Windman, “Drood” won five 1986 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. This production, directed by Gabriella Carr, borrows stage elements from Victorian melodrama, Gilbert and Sullivan, and English music hall and features a strong ensemble.
This weekend’s Savoyards cast includes Annalise Smith as Edwin Drood, Benjamin Bartell as John Jasper, Karen Wonder Dumont as Rosa Bud, Ariel Arbisser and Jeremy Pletter as Helena and Neville Landless, Doug Mathews as Reverend Crisparkle, Marina Garcia White Gelpe as Princess Puffer, Peter Magnus as Durdles, Francesca Decker as Deputy, and Jeff Dunlap as Bazzard. Glen Palmer as William Cartwright, the exuberant Chair of the Theater Royale Music Hall Company, emcees. Carin Estley assists in directing. Nicole Cronin leads the singers. Keehun Nam conducts a full orchestra of local instumentalists. Trenton Loughlin-Wedemann choreographed the dances. Scenic design and lighting design are by Daniel Allen and Evan Hawkins respectively. Liz Kitney created the costumes.
The non-profit Savoyards Ithaca, formerly the Cornell Savoyards, has performed Gilbert and Sullivan, European light opera, and classic American musicals in the Ithaca area since 1953.
This weekend’s production is being performed Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm, with tickets available for $22 general, $17 for students, and $12 for children, at 607-273-ARTS or hangartheatre.org. Hangar subscribers receive a 10% discount. The Hangar Theatre is at 801 Taughannock Boulevard in Ithaca’s west end.