Alexander Showcase Theatre (AST) opened their run of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Al Green Theatre (Jewish Community Centre at Bloor/Spadina, Toronto) last night. Based on the unfinished Charles Dickens story, this version of Edwin Drood is a musical by Rupert Holmes and was originally produced by Joseph Papp at The New York Shakespeare Festival. The AST production team includes director Vincenzo Sestito, music director Gwyneth Sestito and choreographer Jaime Robertson, and the show was produced by the Sestitos.
Edwin Drood is an engaging Dickensian musical, a play within a play as the audience is treated to the baffling story of young Edwin Drood by the company of the Music Hall Royale (reminiscent of AST’s radio play within a play, It’s A Wonderful Life). Even before the show starts, we’re introduced to some of the Royale actors as they mingle in the audience, preparing us for what’s to come in our part of the storytelling. As the story was left without an ending (Dickens died before its completion), it will be up to the audience to answer key questions, including one of coupling two of the characters as lovers, in order to finish the story. Actors also use this time to lobby for audience votes. I was briefed by Miss Janet Conover, who plays Helena Landless in Edwin Drood – both ultimately played by Mallory Smith. Once the show officially commences, the charming Chairman (Ilan Muskat, who also plays the town’s comic Mayor) introduces the headline players in old music hall style as each makes his/her entrance, the players pausing for a bow and applause before continuing the scene.
The show features a large, energetic cast, suitably raucous and bawdy for the music hall setting – ample cleavage and double entre abound – and the songs are delivered with great skill, style and enthusiasm. Stand-outs include, in order of appearance: Luke Hobbs, deliciously demented and conflicted as Edwin’s youthful uncle John Jasper; Jennifer Schembri is a treat as the diva male impersonator Miss Alice Nutting, who plays the boyish Edwin Drood; and Alexandra Reed reveals an outstanding set of pipes as Edwin’s lovely fiancée Rosa Bud, giving a moving performance of “Moonlight” and a beautiful duet with Schembri on “Perfect Strangers.” Mallory Smith, fetching and congenial as Miss Janet Conover, brings an exotic sense of mystery and passion to Helena Landless; as Princess Puffer, Sharon Zehavi works the audience – and her cleavage – stealing the show with a knock-out rendition of “The Wages of Sin;” and Seth Mukamal and Nina Mason are a sheer delight, bringing comic relief as the father/son duo Mr. Nick Cricker and Master Nick Cricker.
Adding to the great fun of this production, towards the end of the second act, the Chairman tells us that they’ve taken the story as far as Dickens’ writing, so it is now up to the audience to direct the company on how to finish it. At this point, Edwin is missing and presumed dead – and there a variety of plausible suspects and motives. Several key questions are put to a vote, the audience choosing from a selection of actors/actresses for each one. Votes are tabulated and the cast finishes the story based on the audience’s decisions.
With shouts to a fabulous design team, who transported us into this music hall production of Edwin Drood: Peter Thornton and Beth Roher (set); Gwyneth Sestito, Cheryl Lee and Linda Farquharson (costumes); Chris Humphrey (lighting – complete with follow spot); Sharon Zehavi (art director, graphic and projection design); Angus Barlow (sound); and Deborah Mills (props). And kudos to AST’s wonderful orchestra, all decked out in period costume – headed by music director Gwyneth Sestito, fabulously decked out in male drag as Maestro Thomas Purcell. Last night’s opening offered a special treat during an extended intermission: an abundant selection of mouth-watering desserts, served with coffee, champagne and fruit. My compliments to the chef and his team!
Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a spectacular, rowdy and entertaining romp of mystery and music – on at the Al Green Theatre until May 11. Go – have some fun!