‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

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When many people think of Charles Dickens, they think of the assigned readings from their high school English classes. If Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre presented all of Dickens’ works in the same way as this season’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, then I’m sure that students would be more than willing to get started on their book reports!

Chairman William (Erik W. Alexis) and the company of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood.' Photo by Alison Harbaugh, Freckle Photography.
Chairman William (Erik W. Alexis) and the company of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood.’ Photo by Alison Harbaugh of Freckle Photography.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens’ final work. While Dickens is known for iconic literary works such as Great Expectations, Oliver and A Christmas Carol, he did something quite different while working on this final novel. In the words of the character of the Chairman, Dickens committed “the most ungenerous deed of his noble career…he died.” Because of this, no one knows how The Mystery of Edwin Drood was meant to end, giving playwright and composer and lyricist Rupert Holmes a spectacular idea—leave it up to the audience!

In true Shakespearean “play-within-a-play” style, the cast of the fictional British playhouse, the Music Hall Royale, performs The Mystery of Edwin Drood. They tell the story of the title character’s impending arranged marriage to Rosa Bud, although neither of them seemed thrilled to be walking down the aisle. Drood’s uncle John Jasper is even more infuriated by the marriage, as he is infatuated with Ms. Bud. While Jasper wants his nephew out of the picture, Drood makes another enemy after insulting Neville Landless, an orphan who arrives in town with his sister Helena from some undisclosed Middle Eastern location.

Maribeth Vogel (Princess Puffer) and Emily Lentz  (Detective Dick Datchery). Photo by Alicia Harbaugh, Freckle Photography.
Maribeth Vogel (Princess Puffer) and Emily Lentz (Detective Dick Datchery). Photo by Alicia Harbaugh of Freckle Photography.

On a dark and stormy Christmas night, Edwin Drood walks down to the river with Neville Landless and subsequently goes missing. Detective Dick Datchery and the mistress of the underground opium world Princess Puffer start investigating his disappearance…and that’s it! That’s all we know! At this point, the cast enlists the audience to vote for the ending of the play, and while I will not give away the ending of my night’s performance, I will say that the ending left my fellow audience members both laughing and applauding enthusiastically!

Director Andy Scott could not have chosen a more supremely talented cast for this production. Emily Lentz, who I saw last as an impeccable Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis, is a chipper and impish Edwin Drood with a strong melodic voice.

Erik W. Alexis’ Chairman is incredibly enthusiastic as the ringleader of this cast.

David Merrill is superb as the dramatic and lustful John Jasper, whose booming voice rocks the house during songs such as “Two Kinsman” and the reprise of “Moonfall.”

David Merrill (John Jasper). Photo by by Alicia Harbaugh, Freckle Photography.
David Merrill (John Jasper). Photo by by Alicia Harbaugh of Freckle Photography.

Porcelain-faced Paige Miller is the perfect choice for Rosa Bud, and her beautiful soprano voice trills during “Moonfall” and “Perfect Strangers.”

Maribeth Vogel has an amazing stage presence as the comedic Cockney Princess Puffer and is engaging to a point where the entire audience sang along to “The Wages of Sin” at her request.

The boisterous belter Casey Lynne Garner is so entertaining as Helena Landless, whose wide-eyed stunned faces made me laugh every time, and her onstage brother, DJ Wojciehowski, is a formidable enemy for Lentz’s Drood.  Even the characters who do not have as much time onstage shine with every moment in the spotlight—a brilliant cast indeed!

As this was my first time seeing a musical in an outdoor theatre, I was highly impressed by Lighting Designer Drew Fox’s ability to create lively daylight on a dark summer night, and I especially liked his work with shadows and silhouettes during such numbers as “Jasper’s Ballet.”

Music Director Ken Kimble lead a wonderful group of talented musicians who never once overpowered the actors’ voices. Costumer Jackie Colestock provided attire that perfectly fitted both the time period and the personality of each character. Finally, Elysia Greene Merrill’s spirited choreography had the audience cheering, and everyone loves a finely executed kickline!

The writing is on the wall! Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s joyous production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a whodunit musical hit!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood plays through June 20, 2015 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-9212 or purchase them online.