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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 surprising since he is an opium addict. Magnetic and flirtatious actor Anthony Meyer highlights this yin/yang persona by shifting his tone from one word to the next with a passionate abruptness that is somehow never overdone, yet quite amusing. Plus he's a powerful vocalist, mesmerizing with the soulful and chilling "A Man Could Go Quite Mad." Ingenue Rosa Bud/Deirdre Peregrine is played sweetly and innocently by Amanda Collins with eloquent singing, notably in the haunting ballad "Moonfall." Rosa likes Edwin but isn't in love with him, and neither is he with she. And in this show, Edwin actually is a she in the British tradition of a "principal boy," where a woman plays the part of the young hero. Melissa Riezler in the role pulls this off quite nicely, capturing the enthusiasm and excitement of a newly adult young man. She also goes all out with the diva attitude in her dual role of Alice Nutting, the actress who plays the part of Drood. She and Collins create harmony with their soprano duet, the love song "Perfect Strangers." Andee Gibbs brings the crusty opium den madame Princess Puffer to life with her "Wages of Sin" solo, bringing comedic grittiness to the show; her perfect streetwise match seems the likable London Mace as stonemason Durdles. The inimitable Drew Yonemori brings a humble, wide-eyed wonder to Bazzard/Waiter/Phillip Bax. "The goose is cooked," he announces with proud authority, while his solo "Never the Luck" delights. And Joshua Meltzer brings a creepy godliness to the show with his Reverend Crisparkle. While Dickens created the twins from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Helena and Neville Landless in his novel, they seem oddly superfluous here, though Caitlin Shea and Adam Dunson do their best to bring life to their parts. The technical elements all are top-notch and appropriate to the Victorian era, including the sumptuous music hall set of Maureen Freedman, the exaggerated bustles and earthy costumes of Kehler Welland, and the full, seamless sound of Kat Gonzalez. And while Ashley Oblad's choreography includes the requisite kicklines and a few charming numbers including a newspaper dance for "Off to the Races," as a whole it seems rather subdued for a show that should be boisterous. "Drood" is an entertaining, interactive show that encourages rowdiness from the audience. Don't be surprised if you hear "Pina Colada" shouted out here and there.

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