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The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Manatee Players


Walter D. Price and Christoff Marse
Probably inspired by the recent New York revival, Manatee Players is returning The Mystery of Edwin Drood to the area. I had not seen Rupert Holmes' triple threat (book, music and lyrics) musical before, but have been aware of it through cast albums and other sources. When the show first came out I was inspired to read the unfinished Charles Dickens novel, which is the source material for the musical. It is typical of the author, a panorama of characters set across Victorian London. Mr. Holmes has by necessity streamlined the various plots to make the piece suitable to the stage and to allow for music. I was never enthralled by the score, but I thought it was just my unfamiliarity with the story and characters. Now I believe that the score is not very good. The opening number, "There You Are," sets up the dramatic conceit of a performance in an English music hall but is musically uninteresting. Ditto the first act closer "Off to the Races." Its not until the plot has thickened in act two that we get a lively tune, "Don't Quit While You're Ahead." The book is stronger, with some very funny low comedy lines, suitable to the music hall setting.

Unfortunately, ghosts of music halls past have gotten into the Manatee Performing Arts Center sound system again and made understanding dialogue extremely difficult and lyrics well nigh impossible. Several people near me all said they couldn't understand anything. Opinions were voiced that perhaps the reverberant walls were the culprit. This has been a problem from the very first production staged in Manatee Player's new home. I hope some benefactor is waiting in the wings to solve this problem.

The cast give their all, overacting like crazy in good Victorian style. Leading off the merriment as Chairman/Mr. James Cartwright, head of the theatrical company, is Walter D. Price, who played villain John Jasper in a 1991 Manatee Players production, full of joie de vivre. He has the assistance of Craig Engle as Stage Manager/Mr. James Throttle shaking a mean thunder sheet and committing various other acts of stage manager mischief. Playing John Jasper/Mr. Clive Paget is Christoff Marse, mugging for all he is worth, drawing sneers and boos from the audience. As the title character Edwin Drood/Alice Nutting, Danae DeShazer again proves that she is one of the area's leading comic leading ladies. Singing gloriously in a part that requires it, Eliza Engle shines as love interest Rosa Budd/Miss Deirdre Peregrine. Her performance of "Moonfall" falls gently on the ears. Twins from Ceylon Helena Landress/Janet Conover and Neville Landless/Victor Grinstead are effectively acted in an exotic manner by Michelle Anaya and Tristan Martin. Jack Harkleroad is the very essence of a proper Victorian cleric, The Reverend Mr. Crisparkle/Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe. As Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock, a role she has waited 25 years to play, Michele Spears brings thoughts of how Gracie Fields, one of England's most beloved musical hall artists, worked an audience. She could play Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd in that same wig. Fine supporting performances come from Heath Jorgenson, JD Carter and Jason Kimble as well as the rest of the cast. In a walk on (actually a carry on), as Danae DeShazer as Alice Nutting is departing the scene, Izzy almost steals the show. She is a Pekingese with a very dark face, simply gorgeous!

The direction and choreography by Scott Keys is in keeping with the music hall milieu. He is able to get boisterous performances from all, no mean feat considering that the matinee audience I attended with was less than optimally responsive. Musical director Aaron Cassette does his usual exemplary job keeping things lively. Producing Artistic Director of Manatee Players Rick Kerby designed the sets, some of the most beautiful flats and backdrops I have ever seen, perfectly capturing the Victorian era. Ditto to the costumes of David Covach: Rosa Bud has three or four gorgeous outfits, while costumes for the twins show a Victorian sense of exotic. The men's clothes also are perfectly in keeping with the era. Michael Pasquini has done a wonderful job of lighting it all. Sound design is by Tom Sell. I cannot tell if the design is at fault or the problem lies in the sound system, but it is still a major problem.

The day after I saw The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Manatee Players announced their plans for the 2014-15 season. Highlights include Disney's Tarzan, Brigadoon, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Into the Woods, Morning's at Seven, Godspell, Agnes of God and Amahl and the Night Visitors among others.

Manatee Players presents The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through January 26, 2014, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941 748-0111, manateeplayers.com.

Cast:
Chairman/Mr. William Cartwright: Walter D. Price
Stage Manager and Horace/Mr. James Throttle: Craig Engle
John Jasper/Mr. Clive Paget: Christoff Marse
Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting: Danae DeShazer
Rosa Bud/Miss Deirdre Peregrine: Eliza Engle
Helena Landless/Miss Janet Conover: Michelle Anaya
The Reverend Mr. Crisparkle/Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe: Jack Harkleroad
Neville Landless/Mr. Victor Grinstead: Tristan Martin
The Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock: Michele M. Spears
Durdles/Mr. Nick Cricker: Heath Jorgenson
Deputy/Master Nick Cricker: JD Carter
Bazzard/Mr. Phillip Bax: Jason Kimble
The Citizens of Cloisterham
Mr. Montague Pruitt: Shawn Roscoe Adams
Miss Violet Balfour: Amanda Heisey
Mr. Nicholas Michaels: Tahj M. Porter
Miss Florence Gill: Molly Schoolmester
Miss Gwendolyn Pynn: Corinne Woodland
Miss Isabel Yearsley: Amy Woerner
Izzy: Herself

Directed and Choreography by Scott Keys
Music Direction by Aaron Cassette
Set Design by Rick Kerby
Sound Design by Tom Sell
Lighting Design by Michael Pasquini
Costume Designed by David Covach
Stage Manager Kristin Mazzitelli

The Musicians:
Conductor/Keyboard--Aaron Cassette
Keyboard--Rebecca Heintz
Reeds--Teri Booth
Trumpet--Victor Mongillo
Percussion--Paul Henry


Photo: Manatee Players

--William S. Oser



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