‘Mystery of Edwin Drood’ lets audiences decide whodunit

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Diane Cliff (left) of Dearborn as Miss Florence Gill and Nasir Khawaja of Southfield as Mr. Victor Grinstead and Neville Landless appear in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Players Guild of Dearborn Nov. 8 to Dec. 4 for four weekends. Based on the unfinished last novel of Charles Dickens, the interactive musical “play within a play” lets the audience determine the outcome by popular vote. For tickets or more information call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

The Players Guild of Dearborn presents the Tony award-winning musical, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Nov. 8 to 10, 15 to 17, 22 to 24, and Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, with shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays.

For tickets or more information call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

Adapted from the unfinished novel of Charles Dickens, the musical features a book, lyrics and music by Rupert Holmes.

The production is a “play within a play,” and is more light-hearted than a typical Dickensian novel. Holmes said that the musical “Drood” is to Dickens’ unfinished novel what the musical “Kiss Me Kate” is to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Coincidentally, the Guild will perform “Kiss Me Kate” as its spring musical.

“Drood” begins in 1892, with the Music Hall Royale premiering its newest show, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” in which the title character has disappeared on a snowy Christmas Eve. Since Dickens died before ending the story, the cause of Drood’s death – and his possible murderer – is unknown.

The players turn to the audience to vote on a list of suspects, many of whom have motives for Drood’s disappearance. The show was the first Broadway musical with multiple endings determined by audience vote.

Brian Townsend of Dearborn, who plays Mr. William Cartwright and the Chairman, runs the troupe and the pub. He also interacts extensively with the audience.

Townsend said that when the actors move about and help set the stage, he is up front talking to the audience.

“I call attention to certain clues, suspicious statements that they might want to take notice of,” Townsend said. “At one point I somewhat reluctantly have to step into the show because one of the actors is massively indisposed and I have to take over for him and play one of the parts as well.”

Whether cajoling or flirting with the audience, Townsend said his part is “pure joy,” and his character even interrupts the action on stage and has it redone to ensure that the audience notices the action and responds appropriately.

“If they’re not applauding properly, I admonish them and say, ‘We’re just going to do it again until you get it right,’ and make the audience do it again,” Townsend said. “So it is very funny. It is very different than most traditional narrators.”

Lindsey Brenz of Troy, who plays Miss Alice Nutting and Edwin Drood, is also playing a non-traditional role: she has never played a character of the opposite gender before, and she said it is a little outside of her comfort zone. However, the vocal part for her character is in the soprano range, as Holmes wrote the role for a woman in drag.

Valerie Mould of Royal Oak, who plays Miss Angela Prysock and the Princess Puffer, is helping other characters become more comfortable with their roles by helping them with their British accents. Although she has been in the United States since 1965, she is originally from Coventry, England.

Another cast member taking on a technical role is Chris Boudreau of Dearborn, who, in addition to co-producing the show with Jeff Bartos, plays Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe and the Reverend Mr. Crisparkle.

Boudreau said the multiple endings make the show challenging from a technical point of view as well as from an acting perspective. He said there are also many special effects, and organization is paramount.

He said in addition to 10 people upstage on the band scaffolding, and set pieces moving in and out, some cast members actually leave the stage.

“The whole atmosphere of this play is it breaks that fourth wall,” Boudreau said. “We’re running all over the theater, and there is all kind of commotion during the show.”

He said it is a great show with a lot of give and take.

“The audience is giving us something, and we are giving something back to the audience, so it’s a whole combination of the troupe working with the audience,” Boudreau said.

Director Michael Falzon of Dearborn, who has assistant directed and choreographed musicals at the Guild in the past, has also directed the Guild’s non-musical productions of “6 Rms Rv Vu,” “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” and “Love Letters.”

As a member of the Guild’s script committee, he was familiar with the show and thought it was a great concept. He has since seen the revival three times on Broadway – the last time after he knew he would direct the show at the Guild.

“It was probably one of the best times I have ever had seeing a show in New York,” Falzon said. “I was so thoroughly entertained, and everybody I was with was thoroughly entertained. I thought I would love to see if I could replicate that whole feeling with the Guild.”

He said he also tends to go for the more challenging shows, and that is another reason he wanted to direct it.

He said the way the actors perform their roles is what influences each audience to vote the way they do, since up until the decision point, all audiences see the same show.

Once the house selects a murderer, the cast member and orchestra are informed, since each possible murderer has his or her own song.

“It’s a complicated show and there are a lot of logistics involved,” Falzon said. “What’s fun about the show is you never know what’s going to happen.”

Falzon hopes that if people have a good time they will want to come back and possibly see a different ending.

Julie Malloy of Dearborn is providing the musical direction, with choreography by Janeen Bodary of Dearborn Heights.

Others in the cast are Mitch Bradley of Berkley as Mr. Clive Paget and John Jasper, Kimberly Elliott of Canton Township as Miss Deidre Peregrine and Rosa Bud, and Colleen Meade-Ripper of Livonia as Miss Janet Conover and Helena Landless.

Nasir Khawaja of Southfield plays Mr. Victor Grinstead and Neville Landless, Inez Hernandez of Dearborn Heights plays Mr. Phillip Bax and Bazzard, and Ryan Owen of Southgate plays Master Nick Cricker and the Deputy.

Also in the cast are Dearborn residents James Mayne as Mr. James Throttle, the stage manager and barkeep; Allison Gilbert as Miss Violet Balfour and Beatrice; Meg Kisch as Miss Isabel Yearsley and Wendy; Diane Cliff as Miss Florence Gill; and Noreen Kurowski as Miss Gwendolyn Pynn.

Jeffrey Nelson of Farmington Hills plays Mr. Harry Sayle and Horace, and Connor Garcia of Southgate plays Mr. Montague Pruitt and Shade of Jasper.

Also in the cast are Livonia residents Tim Carney as Mr. Alan Eliot and Jeff Lokken as Mr. Christopher Lyon.

Townsend said that because no one knows how the story is supposed to end, since Dickens died before he could finish the story, the actors need the audience to help guide them to find an ending to the story.

“Every night could be a totally different ending,” Townsend said. “We have 12 shows – there could be 12 different endings.

“For the people I have talked to there is this great buzz about it. They can’t wait to get involved, to not just sit and enjoy a show but to actually be involved in how it is going to come out is intriguing for people.”