The Mystery of Edwin Drood provides a music-hall take on Charles Dickens | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Mystery of Edwin Drood provides a music-hall take on Charles Dickens 

Blank Theatre Company shows off some chops in this Rupert Holmes musical.

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click to enlarge The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Zeke Dolezalek

One of the easier riddles to solve in Rupert Holmes's 1985 musical comedy is why so few theater companies ever seem to produce it. Its orchestral and vocal bars to entry are significant—in true 80s Broadway form, Holmes's score mashes up operatic arias and ornate harmonic chord progressions with toe-tappy, whistle-able melodies. Its required cast size can be prohibitively large for smaller companies, its plot is often inscrutable, its humor is irony-free, and its obscure source material—Charles Dickens's last work—is literally unfinished. So be it young bravado or something else that inspired Blank Theatre Company to take it on with an orchestra comprised solely of a bass (Leo Finan) and piano (Declan Ryan), the results are as surprising as they are entertaining—these kids really do have the chops to pull it off.

Framed as a show-within-a-show in a British music hall, director Danny Kapinos's production follows a sinister love triangle involving a young musical protege (Phoebe Moore). When Edwin (Maisie Rose), her betrothed, is discovered dead, it's up to the audience to decide the culprit from a lineup including a predatory, mustachioed vocal coach (Chase Heinemann) and a visiting, orphaned suitor (Nathan Karnik). Dickensian class drama is present but takes a back seat to the lower-stakes, goofier antics of the performing company (like the charmingly overeager emcee work by Dustin Rothbart). Music direction by Aaron Kaplan is a highlight, including a dizzying, delightful word buffet "Both Sides of the Coin" performed by Rothbart and Heinemann, and a memorable rendition of "The Wages of Sin" by Katherine Dalin.  v

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