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Theater Review: 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' -- 4 stars

Betsy Wolfe, left, and Will Chase in “The

Betsy Wolfe, left, and Will Chase in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Credit: Betsy Wolfe, left, and Will Chase in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
4 stars

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood," inspired by an unfinished Charles Dickens novel, is one of the most inventive, inspired and rousing musicals ever devised. And it is a pleasure to report that the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival is thoroughly well-cast and extremely enjoyable.

In a rare feat of dexterity, Rupert Holmes wrote the show's book, music, lyrics and orchestrations. After premiering at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1985, it transferred to Broadway and ran for two seasons.

Set in a Victorian music hall in 1895, "Drood" is technically a show-within-a-show in which the Dickens plot is reenacted by a troupe of English performers. A chairman, played with easy charm by Jim Norton, even serves as narrator.

The confidant Drood (the smashing Stephanie J. Block), who has been engaged since childhood to the beautiful Rosa Bud (Betsy Wolfe), has lately been tempting the anger of his psychotic uncle John Jasper (Will Chase), who has been lusting over Rosa himself.

Other characters include Princess Puffer (Chita Rivera), who runs an opium den, Indian siblings Neville (Andy Karl) and Helena (Jessie Mueller), Reverend Chrisparkle (Gregg Edelman) and gravedigger Durdles (Robert Creighton).

Just 15 minutes into Act Two, the chairman confesses that they have reached the point where Dickens laid down his pen. So in order to complete the evening, the audience gets to vote as to which suspect killed Drood, which technically makes every performance different.

As atmospherically staged by Scott Ellis, with sprightly choreography by Warren Carlyle and excellent music direction by Paul Gemignani, this production is a reminder that well-known musicals do not need to be reconstructed or darkened for their revivals. If the show is strong, have faith in it and all will fall into place.

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