Sunday, February 29, 2004

CCM's 'Mystery' pulls audience into playful, entertaining story

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gina Restani (left) and Adam Wagner in a scene from Drood.

An unknown title doesn't get far in selling a musical when it's human nature to know what we like and like what we know.

But it's a huge mistake to pass on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, continuing through next Sunday at College-Conservatory of Music - and you know more about it than you think you do.

Mystery makes a playful, Victorian music hall style musical of the final, unfinished manuscript by Charles Dickens, the crowd-pleasing master storyteller of adventures such as A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations.

Drood has lots of orphans, an opium addict villain and visits to the crypt. Secrets, clues and red herrings abound - it would have been a smasher if Dickens had given a hint of where he was going.

We also know that the best musical performances to be seen in Cincinnati are on the CCM stage. The best thing about Drood is that it's about ensemble; everyone gets a moment to shine on the stage of the Music Hall Royale (nicely realized by set designer Paul Shortt).

Revel in the performances, wherein the students play actors in the outrageous style of the era, then layer their "actor" personalities onto a collection of bizarre characters imagined by Dickens.

It's all done with twinkling elan and it is a marvel of stage invention. Director Aubrey Berg does a glorious job of capturing Drood's high style, assuring that you'll go home happy even if you can't really remember any of the tunes (even after you've sung along).

Gina Restani is grand in the pants role of Drood, who mysteriously disappears on a stormy Christmas Eve after his many, many enemies have been introduced (and all because he's engaged to the desirable Rosa Bud). (By the way - he's wearing the villain's cloak when he goes missing. Could it be a case of - mistaken identity?

Among my favorite suspects: Geoffrey Packard is marvelously smarmy as Edwin's evil, addict uncle (and choir master); Betsy Wolfe is deliciously funny as the "Queen Mother of the red light district"; Michael Parrish Dudell seems suspiciously kindly as the reverend; and that's not the half of it. (

Every music hall evening has a chairman (or emcee, in modern parlance). Doug Barton does fine with the honors.

Everyone is costumed with a wonderful sense of style and fun by Mark Sorensen. Rosa is ever pink, the inscrutable Landless siblings (orphans) have a glam India style as authentic as their accents. The show is a Victorian fashion parade.

The musical Drood stops where Dickens did so that the audience can vote on various outcomes (another highly suspicious, if amusing, affair.) The company visits the lobby before the show and during intermission to shamelessly cajole audience members for their votes.

Many of the roles are double cast, proving just how deep the talent pool is in CCM musical theater. I'll solve that mystery by making a return visit.

One off note - choreographer Greg Hellems takes a moment to spoof A Chorus Line. Why?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, through March 7, CCM Corbett Theater, University of Cincinnati, 556-4183. There is a matinee at 2:30 p.m. today.


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