Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Also see Mary's reviews of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Farragut North
This unfinished tale has inspired numerous dramatizations, including the 1986 Tony Award-winning musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in which writer/composer/lyricist Rupert Holmes presents the story as a play within a play, with Dickens' characters portrayed by a company of 19th century music hall artistes. Holmes capitalizes on the unsolved crime by offering up multiple suspects from the cast of characters and allowing the audience at each performance to vote on the identity of the murderer. He wrote multiple endings to account for each possible voting outcome.
Under the direction of Joe Hynes, the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch has mounted a pleasing if somewhat slow-paced production of the musical. While most of the cast consists of strong actor/singers, several performances are exceptional. Playing both the Chairman (the head of the music hall company) and Mayor Sapsea in Dickens' story (although the latter role is credited to Todd Harbach in the program), the versatile Glenn Heath has a tremendous amount of stage time, and displays unflagging energy, focus, and stage presence. In his impresario wig and stunning makeup (both designed by Chelsea Allen), Heath is a cross between Willie Wonka and Joel Grey's Emcee in Cabaret. Also impressive is Anthony Meyer as the opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper, who lusts after his young pupil Rosa Bud and begrudges her betrothal to his nephew Edwin. With a beautiful singing voice and effortless presence, Meyer plays Jasper as a traditional villain (think Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do-Right segments on "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"), complete with one-handed mustache twirling. Entering late in the story, the exceptionally talented Drew Yonemori lights up the stage as Phillip Bax (playing Bazzard in the story), the diminutive music hall performer who waits patiently in the shadows for his moment to shineand shine he does.
The show runs longan intermissionless two hours and forty minutes on opening night. This is largely the fault of the script, which crams a tremendous number of characters onto the stage; while this is faithful to Dickens' story, the addition of music normally requires some paring down of story and character. Even at its current length, the show leaves some characters underdeveloped, and therefore less interesting, despite the best efforts of the performers.
In addition, the musical's devotion to audience participation extends the running time. Besides voting on the murderer's identity, the audience is asked to vote on the true identity of the mysterious investigator Dick Datchery as well as which two characters should end the play as a romantic couple. Even after the audience's choices have been played out to their dramatic conclusions, Holmes has one more wrinkle up his sleeve. While this cleverness sounds great in theory, it causes the show to wear out its welcome well before the curtain call. This presents a challenge for any ensemble. On opening night the problem was exacerbated by slow pacing in some of the early scenes, as well as frequent colloquies between the actors and some very vocal (and apparently lubricated) members of the audience. With the notable exceptions of Heath, Meyer, and the late-arriving Yonemori, the performers' intensity waxed and waned as the show progressed.
Some of the musical numbers are quite enjoyable, most notably the anthemic "Wages of Sin" (sung by Andee Gibbs as Princess Puffer, the proprietress of the opium den), the patter song "Both Sides of the Coin" (sung at blazing speed by Heath and Meyer), and "Perfect Strangers," a duet beautifully voiced by Edwin (Melissa Riezler) and Rosa (Amanda Collins).
The staging benefits from Kehler Welland's colorful costumes and Maureen Freedman's simple but evocative set design. These visuals are complemented by Paul Fickett's effective lighting design.
Conducted by musical director Toby McEvoy (in the guise of Maestro Thomas Purcell), the lush 14-piece orchestra (on-stage but only occasionally visible) adds immeasurably to the evening's enjoyment.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood runs through September 24, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm) at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 NV Route 159, Las Vegas, NV 89004 (on Blue Diamond Road, in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of Bonnie Springs Ranch). For tickets ($12.95 general admission; $20 at the gate if available; bring chair or blanket or rent a chair onsite) and further information, go to www.supersummertheatre.org. The show is performed without an intermission. Parking is free.