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

The cast of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at NRTG.

Interactive theatre can go one of two ways. It can be exciting for the audience, or it can be terrible for the audience. Luckily, if it is done well, the audience will be able to connect with the material and will have a great experience, and that is exactly what happens with the current production at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

. . .a goofy good time.

Niagara Regional Theatre Guild continues their season lineup with the 1985 smash hit musical, with book, lyrics, and music by Rupert Holmes. The concept is based on Charles Dicken’s unfinished novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” where when he passed, he left no clue as to how the story would end, or what would come of the story’s protagonist. Holmes decided that the show would be decided by the audience and that they would vote on how the story would end, and who would be called the murderer, allowing each performance to end differently and be unique. Throwing in the Music Hall traditions of Dickens’ time, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is a goofy good time.

Overall, the actual story of the show is not very interesting. I actually found myself getting lost a few times, but the true entertaining portion of this production are the characters that the actors play when they aren’t telling the Drood story. The actor characters are full of life and excitement, greeting the audience as they entered and getting them ready for the evening at hand.

Leading the show as Mr. William Cartwright, the chairman of the Royale Music Hall, is Fran Newton who keeps the show rolling along nicely, getting plenty of laughs, and teasing the audience with one liners and puns. Newton does a fantastic job in this role, and you can tell that he is having a great time playing for the crowd.

Playing the villain of the piece, John Jasper and the actor Mr. Clive Paget, is John Panepinto, who takes on this part of getting booed and hissed at every time he enters the stage on the chin. He has great comedic chops and has a great mug that he uses to acknowledge the audience during his scenes. He is very entertaining to watch.

Carolyn Quigley takes on the role of Edwin Drood in the piece, along with the role of Miss Alice Nutting, the famous gentlemen impersonator. Quigley is just quirky enough to pull off this part and keep the audience entertained during the dry story of Edwin Drood. We might not always know what the Dicken’s story is about, but we do know that Quigley is going to make it very entertaining, and keeps us engaged.

Notable standouts in this production go to Chris Cummings as Durdles, the groundskeeper of a cemetery who is also the comic relief in this story, and Christopher Andreana as Bazzard who gets laughs from the moment the audience enters the theatre, all the way to the final bow. These two are hilarious and will keep the deep belly laughs coming all throughout the performance.

With the characters playing the actors and the characters they are portraying in the play within the play, I would have liked to see a greater differentiation between the Drood Story and the performer. Sometimes the two just meshed together and it took a few minutes for me to realize that the actors were speaking, and that the show was not happening. A sharper change would have really let the two stand out, but overall, the show was entertaining.

If you like a good whodunnit, then you need to get to the Ellicott Creek Playhouse to see NRTG’s fun and enjoyable production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” You won’t want to miss it!

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs until November 18, 2018 and is presented by NRTG at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.

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.