The Mystery of Edwin Drood

lsr-1041Photo by Leticia Rininger

By Scott MacClelland

RUPERT HOLMES’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood opened on Broadway in 1987. (The fabulous original cast recording was out of print when I first discovered it, but has since been reissued.) Yet it has only just made its appearance here in a remarkable production at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, with an all-female cast of high school students. The production must be considered a revival, even though the show has never been performed by any local professional company.

Drood, as it has also been called, can be described as “a dickens of a whodunit.” It’s based on the Charles Dickens serialized novel, left unfinished at his death in 1870, with no clues yet found to guide its conclusion, other than hearsay from those who claim the author explained his plan verbally. In the story, set in Victorian England, young Drood, nephew to John Jasper, has become engaged to Rosa Bud. Meanwhile, Jasper, a choirmaster, Rosa’s voice teacher and an opium addict, has fallen in love with her. Before the end of Act I, Drood disappears, never to be seen again. Suspicion suggests that Jasper has murdered his nephew out of jealousy, possibly fueled by opium intoxication.

When Holmes—born David Goldstein in England but from a young age raised in upstate New York—decided to take on the ‘mystery,’ he concocted a clever conclusion: make a suspect out of all the principal cast members and ask the audience to take a vote in deciding who is guilty of murder, habeas corpus notwithstanding. A man of prodigious talent, Holmes wrote the story, the libretto, the music (songs and ensembles) and the original orchestration. This is not only a great spoof but it comes with a bushel of memorable songs, the most famous among them, the haunting “Moonfall,” which has been recorded out of context by countless artists, many to be found on YouTube.

Obviously, Holmes planned well for this ‘big hit.’ He had already had a long string of them himself, which he arranged and recorded as singles. Then, in 1974, he broke into the national consciousness with his album Widescreen, which contained such hit ‘story-tunes’ as “Second Saxophone,” “Letters that Cross in the Mail” and “Terminal.” Later, “The Piña Colada Song.” In Drood, his debut as a playwright, you can hear the patter of Gilbert and Sullivan, the gothic of Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and the wit of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.

Drood opens as the Chairman/MC (Juliana Tarallo) begins the entire proceedings with the process of introducing all the ‘professional’ actors who will enact the play, followed by the full cast welcoming the audience in Broadway-style with “There you are.” The curtain then rises on the home of John Jasper (Madigan Webb) on a morning in late December. Later that day, at the conservatory, Jasper bullies Rosa (Fila Oen) to sing his new song, “Moonfall.” The next morning, he awakes in the opium den of prostitute Princess Puffer (McCall Brinskele) who recounts the “Wages of sin.” The whole of the narrative covers two days, then Drood disappears. Act II opens six months later with the focus turned to suspicion and accusation, judgment (by the audience) and condemnation. Many of the roles were doubled, including those mentioned above. We must also praise principals Cayleigh Capaldi, Anna Baricevic, Ana Leon Nunez, Jessica Almos, Bailey Brewer, Taylor Moises, Annarose Hunt, Mackenzie Roth, Ella Hougie, Kayla Ginette and Sein Lee.

At a full two and a half hours running time, including interval, the Santa Catalina production, directed by Lara Wheeler Devlin (a 2002 Catalina grad), with sets by Reed Scott and Nicole B. Stephens, choreography by Nicole West, lighting by Roger Thompson and Jeffrey Catterlin, and—all important—costumes by Joanna Winningham, the cast of 22, crew of nearly the same number, and pit orchestra of eight musicians, directed by veteran Barney Hulse, obviously worked their tails off to do this demanding show justice. And they deserve all-credit for their dedication and the resulting success. The only ‘too bad’ is that it is ending this week.

Holmes displays a total mastery of musical comedy in this work. His songs are as rich in melody as they are responsive to the lyrics, and his skill at reworking them into the narrative is no less than Wagnerian. As Beethoven is said to have remarked on Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, “More Barbers.” I would say, more Rupert Holmes! And I would add, thank you Santa Catalina School for doing what should have been done here long ago.