Arts & Culture

Review: A vote for Theatre Raleigh’s spirited ‘Edwin Drood’

The cast in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood."
The cast in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Curtis Brown Photography

It’s difficult to imagine anyone not having a good time at Theatre Raleigh’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” The spirited cast and high-energy execution make it easy to overlook quibbles about the material.

The musical is based on Charles Dickens’ novel, in which the murder of Drood is left unsolved, Dickens having died in mid-writing.

The plot concerns Edwin Drood’s engagement to Rosa Bud, lusted after by her music teacher, John Jasper. Neville Landless, recently arrived from India, also fancies Rosa. When Drood disappears on a stormy night, everyone, including eight other characters, have possible motives. The audience completes the story by voting on the murder.

Although the big two-act version is a theatrical staple, its composer, lyricist and scriptwriter, Rupert Holmes, worked with Theatre Raleigh to create a one-act, intimately sized version. The result works well in the company’s black box space, transformed into an English music hall with ringside tables and in-theater bar. Chris Bernier’s seedy Victorian setting makes a great backdrop for Allison White’s stylish period costumes.

The show-within-a-show concept has the piece being staged by music hall performers, allowing for theater in-jokes and funny moments when actors break character to argue or commiserate. Holmes is best at writing puns and double-entendres, firing them off so rapidly you simply have to give in and laugh. The characters are stock melodrama types, made dimensional by the talented players.

Holmes’ songs are mostly raucous music hall ditties or Gilbert and Sullivan-like patter numbers. Few are distinctive, but the cast’s strong voices and Jay Wright’s upbeat music direction give them substance.

However, the one-act runs nearly two hours, too long to sustain the formulaic, fragmented plot, which loses momentum during the prolonged voting segment. Still, director-choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the staging intensely busy, while giving the performers room to shine.

John Paul Almon’s witty master of ceremonies rides herd on all the amusing suspects, including Adam Poole’s crazed villain, Jasper; David Bartlett’s officious Rev. Crisparkle; Jacob Dickey’s seething Landless; and Marisa Roberge’s wild-eyed Helena. Lauren Kennedy’s dapper Edwin and Alexandra May’s damsel-in-distress Rosa sing harmoniously together, while Sally Mayes’ Puffer sashays wickedly. Mike Raab’s downtrodden actor, Bazzard, Robert Kaufman’s wisecracking stonemason, Durdles, and A. C. Donohue’s eager maiden, Florence, are endearing cameos.

For undemanding, engaging entertainment, “Drood” should get your vote.


What: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” presented by Theatre Raleigh

Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

When: 8 p.m. May 12-14, 18-21; 2 p.m. May 14, 21; 3 p.m. May 15, 22

Tickets: $32.50; bar table seating $40 (seniors $30.50)

Info: 919-832-9997 or