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It's no mystery: SST's 'Drood' is beautifully sung, lively fun ★★★★☆

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

★★★★☆ - Delicious

"There you are" sings the cast within a cast of Super Summer Theatre's "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," presented by Hynes Sight Entertainment on the meadow under the stars at Spring Mountain Ranch. "How very glad we are that there you are" they belt out warmly, accompanied by a fourteen piece band on a crisp autumn night. It's 1895 in Victorian England and the actors of London's Music Hall Royale are happy to see us because without us they wouldn't have an ending for their whodunit show. Directed by Joe Hynes with musical direction by Toby McEvoy, the energetic "Drood" looks and sounds sublime. The glorious live orchestra is truly a luxury that gives richness and dimension to the show that would be impossible to achieve with taped music, and it enhances some lovely voices. The production may be a tad long and the plot sometimes difficult to follow, but it hums along smoothly and the splendid, funny cast is comfortable and relaxed in the pleasant outdoor setting. Rupert Holmes is known mostly for his 1979 fluff "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" but he impressively wore all the hats of writer, lyricist, and composer when he crafted his Tony Award winning "Drood," first produced on Broadway in 1985. He based it on Charles Dickens' half finished 1870 serialized novel of the same name, which seemed to him the perfect fodder for an interactive musical since Dickens died before the plot could play out and before the murderer of young Edwin Drood was revealed. Holmes wanted audiences to help shape the plot, and his meta-theatrical framework features a goofy music hall acting troupe which dramatizes the story, trading Dickens' customary bleakness for a lighthearted, melodramatic vibe. Every performer plays two parts, their actor character and the Dickens' character that the actor portrays, and there are so many subplots that it's easy to lose track of who is what and when. But by a show of hands the audience solves the murder mystery, among other things, choosing who killed poor Drood toward the end. The Chairman/William Cartwright is the glue that holds the show together, an emcee who takes us through the twists and turns by breaking the fourth wall and drawing us in. Masterful actor Glenn Heath is as engaging as ever and a most pleasant and funny tour guide, easily improvising jokes that incorporate our surroundings (think burros) and have us rolling in the grass. Onstage for much of the show he keeps the energy high with his subtly hammy asides, and proves an excellent singer during "Both Sides of the Coin," a rapid fire, wordplay duet he shares with the dastardly Jasper. Choirmaster John Jasper/Clive Paget is the obvious villain of the story, the one Dickens probably intended as the murderer since he covets the pretty Rosa Bud, a music student who is betrothed to his nephew Edwin. It doesn't help that he has a somewhat maniacal personality quirk which he describes as a "Duality," not surp