A Report on Landless Theatre Company’s Symphonic Metal ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’

Following the success of last year’s Sweeney Todd Prog Metal Version, Landless Theatre Company is back with their latest metal adaptation of a Tony® Award-winning musical. This time, the company tackles The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with innovative new symphonic metal arrangements created with the blessing of Drood composer Rupert Holmes.

“I’m both intrigued and excited about Edwin Drood testing its mettle and metal with this inventive new theater company,” said Holmes in an interview  with Landless’ Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman.

The cast: John Jasper (Andrew Lloyd Baughman), Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins), Neville Landless (Andre Brown), Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn), Karissa Swanigan (Dick Datchery), Rev. Crisparkle (Jason Hoffman), Durdles (Matt Baughman), Helena Landless (Mary Patton), Bazzard (Eric Jones), Deputy (Dylan Ngo), and Chairman Cartwright (Malcolm Lee). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

The cast: John Jasper (Andrew Lloyd Baughman), Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins), Neville Landless (Andre Brown), Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn), Karissa Swanigan (Dick Datchery), Rev. Crisparkle (Jason Hoffman), Durdles (Matt Baughman), Helena Landless (Mary Patton), Bazzard (Eric Jones), Deputy (Dylan Ngo), and Chairman Cartwright (Malcolm Lee). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

Landless gathered a skilled team of arrangers (Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Matt Farkas, John Maestri, Zachary Pinkham, Ray Shaw, and Andrew Siddle), known as The Fleet Street Collective, to convert the original score into MetalTheatre.

Director Melissa Baughman’s goal was to retain the message and feel of the original score while translating it into the metal genre and the new arrangements succeeded in enhancing the storyline and maintaining the dramatic arc of the original production.

Metal arrangements bring an added intensity and sense of urgency to songs such as “A Man Could Go Quite Mad,” “A British Subject,” “Both Sides of the Coin,” and “Off to the Races.” An electric violin, played by Jason Labrador, takes the lead in many of the arrangements (notably in “Moonfall”) and proves a key ingredient in bringing a symphonic (i.e. melodramatic) quality to the metalized score. This is ideal in this story with plenty of melodrama and intrigue.

Other tunes, such as the great 11 o’clock number “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead” are given new life and a swing jazz feel by bringing piano and bass to the forefront. The new arrangements worked less well on the tune “The Wages of Sin” where the vocals seemed to compete with the drum and violin lines which could use some fleshing out.

Drood the musical is based on the final unfinished novel of the same name by Charles Dickens and set in a Victorian era English music hall. The music hall storyline functions as a play-within-a-play in which the actors are portraying music hall performers putting on a production of Drood. The show is noteworthy for being the first Tony® Award-winning musical to use audience participation. Audience members vote to determine, among other things, who the villain will be each night.

If you aren’t familiar with Drood creator Rupert Holmes, you certainly know his 1979 chart-topping single (get ready, you are about to start singing it) “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” Yes, that one: “If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” (Sorry, I know. Now it’s stuck in your head). Holmes is notable for being the only Broadway composer since the days of vaudeville to write the lyrics, book, music and orchestrations for a musical. He did it all.

This fact was helpful to Landless in that it made the process of securing the rights to adapt the show much easier – Holmes was the only person who needed to sign off on it. However, imagine the pressure when it came to arranging Holmes’ music. The Landless team is no stranger to pressure like this, having recently worked closely with Stephen Sondheim to create the first metal version of Sweeney Todd.

Edwin Drood (Karissa Swanigan) and Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

Edwin Drood (Karissa Swanigan) and Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

Landless’ production retains the fun, intrigue and melodrama of the original Drood. The cast works persuasively to create the feel of a bawdy 19th Century music hall. Here are Mayor Thomas Sapsea (Malcolm Lee) engaging the audience with ribald humor, Edwin Drood (Karissa Swanigan) – a delightfully aristocratic English lead boy, Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn) – the charming soprano and ingénue, Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins) titillating queen of the red light district, and of course the lustful, villainous John Jasper (Andrew Lloyd Baughman).

Add Landless’ production of Drood to a growing number of 21st Century productions like Spring Awakening or Hamilton that combine modern music with period costumes. Costume Designer Terri Magers clad the actors in Victorian inspired garb while Sound Designer Jim Wauters put wired floor mics in their hands. The minimalist lighting by Carey Raugh and set by Jared Davis puts the spotlight straight on the actors who could give a hair-metal band a run for their money while in pantaloons and bustiers.

Suspects for Murder: L to R: Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins), Neville Landless (Andre Brown), Helena Landless (Mary Patton), Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn), and Durdles (Matt Baughman). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

Suspects for Murder: L to R: Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins), Neville Landless (Andre Brown), Helena Landless (Mary Patton), Rosa Bud (Shaina Kuhn), and Durdles (Matt Baughman). Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre Company.

The cast is rounded out with great comedic performances by Andre Brown (Neville Landless), Mary Patton (Helena Landless), Jason Hoffman (Reverend Septimus Crisparkle), Eric Jones (Bazzard), Matt Baughman (Durdles), Alexis Turbat/Dylan Ngo (Deputy), and Ray Shaw (Mr. James Throttle/Bass Guitar). Zachary Pinkham (Keyboard/Conductor), Tom Collins (Electric Guitar), and John Maestri (Percussion) complete the band.

Landless Theatre Company’s highly entertaining symphonic metal version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood brings a new 21st Century twist to a musical that was ahead of its time decades ago.

Running Time: Two hours and 3o minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood plays through September 25, 2016, at Landless Theatre Company performing at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Andrew L. Baughman on Landless Theatre Company’s New ‘Symphonic Metal’ Version of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ Playing Through 9/25/16 at The Arts Barn by Joel Markowitz.

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