First Look: ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

We hear every now and then of how a famous author died before they finished a work. Publishers scramble to get the rights and to see if there is a way that it can be finished so that they can capitalize on the projected profits. This is similar to what happened with Charles Dickens, who was working on his novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” when he passed away, without giving any hints at how he was thinking the book should end.

Rupert Holmes took this idea and ran with it, creating a musical murder mystery where the audience gets to choose how the story unravels and who the murderer is. It is a play within a  play. “The audience gets to vote on key questions throughout the show to pick how things happen,” says Fran Newton, who is directing the production. “The ending changes every night,” he laughs.

The Niagara Regional Theatre Guild is made up of volunteers, and like the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the company performs in numerous shows during the season, so that each production is balanced with talent and crew. “Volunteers help build the set and put in hundreds of hours throughout the season doing various tasks to help the theatre,” says Newton, “For those volunteers who put in the necessary hours, they are allowed to vote on one of the shows we will produce during the season. This show was their choice.” Newton goes on to say that they love this policy and it helps build excitement into the volunteer base.

This show is interactive, which means that the audience has a great deal of say on how the evening progresses. “The script has lots of notes on things that the writer suggests, like improv, or if the actors lose track of their lines, we have a character on stage who is the ‘stage manager’  and they can give them their lines. It is a pretty funny piece,” says Newton.

With every musical comes unique challenges, and this show is no different. “Because every actor could potentially be the killer at the end of the show, we needed to allow time for each actor to rehearse the closing song,” laughs Newton, “that was our biggest challenge. Making sure everyone got enough rehearsal time.” The actors literally know if they are the killer, minutes before the number starts. “There is very little time to get nervous, you just have to go with it.”

Newton continues to say that the music is haunting and there are plenty of fun numbers in this show.

Due to the fact that the audience is able to choose how the show progresses, there are over one-hundred potential endings for this production. “You could come see the show ten times and each time see a completely different show,” says Newton.

This show is one that also has some technical challenges. “We have a thrust stage in our theatre, and for this show we built a proscenium, and we also have some effects that we need to pull off that are really exciting to the technical team,” says Newton, “I love when a show excites everyone involved.”

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” opens on November 2, 2018 and is presented by Niagara Regional Theatre Guide at the Elliott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.