On the stage and in the audience, reactions to “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”


Photo by Mona Mirpour

Curtains went up on Trinity University’s fall musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” this past Friday, Nov. 15, in the Stieren Theater. The show puts a twist on Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel of the same name, transformed into a murder mystery filled with humor, intrigue and a healthy dose of audience participation. Together, the audience and cast try to discover who really killed Edwin Drood and why.

Audiences are transported back to old London as Trinity students portray professional British actors performing on “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in London’s Music Hall Royale. Each actor plays two roles: that of the actor in the Music Hall, and the character that the person plays in “Edwin Drood.”

From the pre-show to the final number, characters are mingling with audience members. In full British dialect, the ensemble and title characters teach the audience songs and chants, and they engage in full conversations with any willing theatergoer in the seats — especially those sitting at the front of the theater and at the ends of the aisles.

Conversations with the characters are not the end of the audience’s influence in the show; at the end of Act II, the audience gets a chance to write their own ending for Dickens’s story. They vote on the true identity of the mysterious detective Dick Datchery, pair up two characters to be lovers and choose the character guilty of murdering Edwin Drood.

When looking for a musical for this season, director Nathan Stith was keen on a couple of aspects of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and they helped in his choosing of it.

“I was looking for a show that had a lot of strong female roles, and this one definitely does. There’s the character of Edwin Drood, which is a boy but is played by a woman,” Stith said. “This is very rare and exciting, and then the other female roles are also very strong.”

The audience interaction was another thing that drew him to the show.

“It’s kind of unusual how involved the audience becomes in the show — they really become another character. They decide how the show ends,” Stith said.

The title role of typically played by a woman, is portrayed by senior Sarah Bastos, who also plays Miss Alice Nutting, the woman who plays Edwin Drood in the Music Hall Royale’s production.

One highlight of her performance Friday night was her performance of the song “The Writing on the Wall” to close out the show.

“It’s also the last [song], so I can put all my energy into it,” Bastos said.

Another highlight of Friday’s show was the portrayal of Princess Puffer done by sophomore Kristen Herink.

As the purveyor of the opium den in town, she explains to the audience what she sees in her line of work, and explains her unfortunate fall from grace, all while cracking jokes at the audience and even into the orchestra pit.

Additionally, sophomore Trace Glorioso gave a stellar rendition of the classic murder-mystery villain John Jasper, uncle of Drood and one of the candidates for the murderer. Glorioso performed his final song with an unmatched fervor, making clear the duality of his character throughout every scene.

On Friday evening, the audience chose the character Reverend Crisparkle as the murderer, which was played by senior Ward LeHardy.

“I’m ecstatic,” LeHardy said in response to the audience’s choice. “It was a little unexpected, I was running through my lines as I was standing on stage, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a great show and a great company.”

This sentiment seems to be shared among the cast and by the director. “I’m really happy with the turnout,” said junior Sophia Elsadig, who played the role of Helena Landless. “This was the first musical that I’ve ever been in, and it was a lot. I was really happy that we got a standing ovation on the first night. I’m really excited to see the rest of the shows and see how different audiences react and interact.”

“It’s a really funny show,” Stith said. “It has been really fun to play with that, and one thing that’s been great is watching how hard the students have been working. From the ensemble to the leads, there is so much going on. To watch them rise to the occasion has been really fulfilling.”

If you are hoping to see the show, the final performance is on Nov. 22. Audiences should expect a dramatic, high-energy show with surprisingly emotional character spotlights that contrast nicely with the humor that pervades throughout. More than anything, audiences should expect the unexpected. With numerous endings to choose from, no night at the Music Hall Royale — or the Ruth Taylor Theater — will be the same.