In the Moment: Interview with Andrew Baughman, Landless Theatre’ ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood [Symphonic Metal Version]’

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Moving into its 18th year of producing exciting and accessible alternative theater to cultivate new and diverse audiences, the Landless Theatre will present the world premiere of The Mystery of Edwin Drood [Symphonic Metal Version]. It is an exclusive “MetalTheatre” adaptation of Rupert Holmes’ Tony Award-winning musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

And yes, Rubert Holmes is very much aware of the Landless work. In late 2014, Landless obtained permission from Rupert Holmes to adapt Drood into a work of MetalTheatre. The late founder of DC Metro Theater Arts, Joel Markowitz, interviewed Rupert Holmes about the Landless adaptation. For those less familiar with Rubert Holmes, he is a Tony Award-winning playwright-composer, acclaimed mystery novelist, and singer-songwriter renowned for pop hits like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” “I thought Edwin Drood might take well to a heavy metal treatment,” said Holmes. “As a musical whose ending is constantly changing, this interesting change of scenery for the show would be a fascinating experiment.”

The Landless production of Drood is directed by Melissa Baughman (2015 Helen Hayes Award Nominee for Outstanding Direction of a Musical), and orchestrated by The Fleet Street Collective. In the Landless Drood, London’s bawdy and raucous Music Hall Royale performs a Symphonic Metal Musicale based on the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. Performed at the Logan Fringe Arts Space, the Landless patrons will have the opportunity solve and resolve the Edwin Drood mystery once and for all.

Landless Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman. Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre.

Landless’ MetalTheatre concept brings together artists from theater and music, from the power and punch of a rock concert, to a classic Broadway musical. Drood features metal band lead singer Lily Hoy as Edwin Drood, and Steve Wannall as Chairman William Cartwright. The cast also features Melissa LaMartina, and Co-Arranger (and Landless Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director) Andrew Lloyd Baughman.

Drood [Symphonic Metal Version] is Landless Theatre’s second MetalTheatre adaptation. In 2015, Landless’ Sweeney Todd [Prog Metal Version], orchestrated with special permission by Stephen Sondheim, garnered three Helen Hayes Award nominations for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Direction of a Musical, and Outstanding Music Direction.

Wanting to learn more about both Drood and MetalTheatre in general, I had a conversation with Andrew Baughman.

David: Can you tell us a little bit about Landless Theatre, for readers who aren’t familiar with the company?

Andrew Baughman: Landless Theatre was founded in 2003, and our mission has been to bring new audience members to theater. We also try to select material that is unique because we’ve never seen the use in producing the type of work that someone else in town is already doing. This has led us to camp, offbeat musicals, cult shows that appeal to niches of “geek culture,” and particularly rock musicals.

But you haven’t been producing as many shows in DC in recent years, have you?

It’s the old adage “work smarter, not harder.” When we were a younger bunch, we were putting up 3-5 shows per season, usually at District of Columbia Arts Center. As MetalTheatre became a central focus, we decided to cut back to one major production every two years – spending one year to workshop a piece “out of town,” and one year to present the DC premiere. Theater is always so fleeting, with such exclusive opportunities to re-orchestrate works like Sweeney Todd and Drood, we didn’t want to put in all the work just to file them on the shelf. We want to build each show to continue to run in rep, and hopefully take them on tour eventually.

What is MetalTheatre? How did this genre come about?

Melissa Baughman, associate artistic director of Landless Theatre. Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre.

MetalTheatre is the brainchild of my wife Melissa Baughman, our Resident Director. She is a “metalhead” since childhood, and always said metal fans would love theater if there was ever a show that appealed to them. And it’s true, heavy metal concerts are extremely theatrical.

After years of discussing the idea of blending musical theater and metal, I wrote to Stephen Sondheim for permission to create a “Prog Metal Version” of Sweeney Todd. [Prog is a metal subgenre that utilizes mixed meter and classical elements, which seemed the best fit for Sweeney.] Amazingly, he agreed with the concept, and was kind enough provide feedback and guidance with our arrangements. His permission and involvement definitely opened the door for other major composers to take a chance of metal adaptation, and we are fortunate to have Drood and other shows in the pipeline.

The production was a hit with audiences and garnered three 2015 Helen Hayes nominations for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Direction of a Musical, and Outstanding Music Direction – which is quite an achievement for heavy metal anything in DC theater!

Sweeney Todd seems like a natural story for a heavy metal adaptation. What made you choose The Mystery of Edwin Drood?

It’s tough to follow a production of Sweeney Todd with any show, but we wanted to take on a show that was not only very different, but that allowed us to incorporate more of the camp and silliness that we are often known for as a company. Drood won the Tony for Best Musical, but I feel like it’s a show that never got a fair shake with audiences compared to [shows like] Gypsy and Hello Dolly. It has all the raucous interactive excitement and energy of a rock concert with it’s “Choose Your Own Ending” style frame, and the darkly melodramatic “play within a play” is fertile ground for Symphonic Metal. We had talked about taking on something in the quasi-classical Gilbert and Sullivan vein, and Drood is a sendup of a D’oyly Carte Music Hall with a much more engaging script. In my opinion, Rupert Holmes is the best book writer of our time.

How is the “Symphonic Metal Version” different from the original production of Drood?

Melissa never wants the “metal” to upstage the story. It’s very much the traditional Drood with a metal orchestration. The only real change is that Drood is typically written for a large cast, and Rupert has allowed us to pare down to an ensemble of 11 actors. Part of our long-term impetus in creating MetalTheatre has been to take large orchestra shows like Sweeney and Drood and re-orchestrate with a small rock combo to make them more manageable for small theater and college groups without sacrificing any of the musical “punch.” In Drood, we’ve extended that concept to the size of the ensemble, as well. We’ve got some big voices with amplification doing the work of a full chorus.

What’s next for Landless after Drood?

Our next MetalTheatre will be Carnival [Circus Metal Version]. Carnival is a haunting musical by the late Bob Merrill that features puppetry, circus acts, and a dark story that we believe will be fully realized for the first time in the Metal Version. We’re shooting for a first workshop next Summer. In the meantime, we’ll present our annual 4th of July production of 1776 at The Weinberg Center in Frederick, MD, featuring cameos by local leaders.

Photo courtesy of Landless Theatre.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood [Symphonic Metal Version] runs April 5 through April 29, 2018, at Trinidad Theatre in the Logan Fringe Arts Space – 1358 Florida Ave, NE, in Washington, DC 20002. For tickets, call 866-811-4111, or purchase them online.