Monday, November 19, 2007

Hey, Drood

Michael Mendiola and Erin Tchoukaleff get in the mood for Drood.

I'll do it right up front: The Mystery of Edwin Drood is "a Dickens of a Christmas show!!!" "With more carols than A Christmas Carol," it's "no holiday turkey" even if "Drood looks like a lady!" "Only a Scrooge wouldn't like it!"

Okay, okay. It actually is a good show, even if it hadn't entirely gelled the night I saw it (the last preview, just before press). SpeakEasy has once again outdone itself, production-wise: this time they've erected a complete Victorian music-hall, with swooping red-velvet curtain and flickering chandeliers, within the Roberts Studio, and corralled la crème de la crème of Boston's musical talent to warble showtunes on its stage: Leigh Barrett rubs elbows with Brendan McNab, who bumps up against Kerry Dowling, who almost collides with Will McGarrahan.

What's more, Drood proves quite appropriate to the Christmas season; Dickens and his crew amused each other with ghost stories during long December nights, and the cozy/spooky yin-yang of Christmas Carol echoes through the unfinished Drood (which, appropriately enough, Dickens died before completing - hence a mystery within a mystery, which the audience "solves").

The cast confronts their judges during the "audience participation" segment.

You also have to ponder, however, Rupert Holmes, who single-handedly drew Drood from the page to the stage. Yup. That Rupert Holmes - the "Piña Colada Song" guy. And while yes, Drood is a bit better, musically speaking, than that great late-70s classic, it's not that much better. And Holmes not only wrote the music, but also penned the lyrics and the "book," so . . . you get the idea. Plus, he isn't really interested in drawing out the themes Dickens might have embedded in his answer to The Moonstone - instead, Holmes posits a broad romp for Broadway's bridge & tunnel crowd (indeed, the mystery of Edwin Drood is how it won a Tony). But while Holmes clearly longs to imagine himself the camp equal of say, Charles Ludlam, Drood actually toodles along at an acceptable level without ever cracking either the heights of the sublime or the depths of the ridiculous. It's just a nice show, tied up with a big, overlong bow of "audience participation," for those who still find that kind of thing hilarious (above, the cast proposes, while the crowd disposes).

But hey, it's Christmas (almost), and if you can't really face that bratty Tiny Tim one more time, trust me, Drood won't let you down. Neither will this cast. Michael Mendiola does a nice twist on Roger Rees as the melancholy, menacing John Jasper, while Brendan McNab brings a slightly goofy spin to the exotic, menacing Neville Landless, even as David Krinitt channels Dick van Dyke as the drunken, menacing Nick Cricker. The night belongs, however, to Kerry A. Dowling (as opiatrix "Princess Puffer") and Will McGarrahan (our "Chairman," or emcee, at left), who deliver what may be the best performances of two sterling careers; both understand the ghoulish charm that Drood should exude, and deliver it in spades. Alas, as Drood himself, the great Leigh Barrett hasn't quite found her feet (the kid should be a far chipper British innocent adrift in colonial effluvia), but she's hilarious once she's in disguise, as the mysterious Dick Datchery, whose Basil-Rathbonesque headgear flaps about endearingly in her deadpan musical numbers. In moments such as these, the success of Edwin Drood is no mystery.

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