Broadway Blip: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
What do you do when Charles Dickins begins writing a murder mystery story, but never finishes it? You turn it into a musical, of course, and let the audience vote at each performance to decide which character they want to be the culprit. That is exactly what Rupert Holmes did when wrote the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The musical, sometimes abbreviated to simply “Drood,” is an interactive experience for audiences, making it Broadway’s most original whodunit.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood drew on the conventions of the Victorian music hall of Great Britain, presented as a show-within-a-show. Performers in a music hall entertainment are actually putting on a performance of the Dickins tale. Among the traditions employed, the use of a master of ceremonies to oversee the proceedings, performers interacting with the audience, and the idea of the “Lead Boy,” a young woman playing the male lead as a trouser role (in drag).
Rupert Holmes, taking his first stab at writing for the Broadway musical stage, was best known as a composer who had written for Barbra Streisand for his own #1 hit “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” For The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he would compose a score that evoked both music hall and a more traditional Broadway sound. Among the music hall numbers, “There You Are,” “Both Sides of the Coin,” and “Don’t Quit While Your Ahead” were standouts. Holmes also devised a variety of possible musical endings, accommodating the audience votes at each performance.
The musical premiered at the New York Shakespeare Festival in August of 1985, was revised, and then transferred to Broadway’s Imperial Theatre where it opened on December 2, 1985. The cast included George Rose, Betty Buckley, Cleo Laine, John Herrera, Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour, and Jana Schneider. Also in the cast, notables included Judy Kuhn, Rob Marshall, and Donna Murphy who would go on to be some of Broadway’s star players. Wilford Leach won a Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical and Graciela Daniele was nominated for her choreography. The Mystery of Edwin Drood also won Tonys for Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor (Rose) and Best Musical.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood has received one Broadway revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2012. Directed by Scott Ellis, the production starred Chita Rivera, Stephanie J. Block, Jim Norton, Will Chase, Jessie Mueller, Andy Karl, and Gregg Edelmann.