Red Deer College theatre students are gearing up for their winter production – a musical about Charles Dickens’ unfinished work The Mystery of Edwin Drood – which opens Thursday on the College Arts Centre mainstage.
Directed by Tom Bradshaw with book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, performances run through to Nov. 22nd, then again Nov. 26th-29th with curtain at 7:30 p.m. There are also Saturday matinees Nov. 22nd and Nov. 29th at 1 p.m.
This musical begs the question: ‘Whatever happened to Edwin Drood after his mysterious disappearance?’
With singing, dancing and comedic fun, The Mystery of Edwin Drood has the audience choosing the ending of the play in a ‘raucous balloting frenzy’. It takes audience participation to new heights by letting them affect the play’s outcome by voting for whomever they think murdered the unfortunate young Edwin Drood.
“There has been various attempts to sort of conclude the novel that Dickens wrote, and this is to me one of the most successful in the fact it’s not the author of the play trying to sum up the conclusion – it allows the audience to make the decisions,” explains Bradshaw. “You have this company doing the play version of Dickens’ novel. We go through the entire play, dropping clues here and there, and then we get to the point where Dickens ‘put down his pen forever’ as we say.
“We stop the show and remind (the audience) of some of the things some of the main characters said, and we ask them to then participate in three different votes,” explains Bradshaw.
Ultimately, there could be eight different murderers. Also, a mystery detective must be selected along with the type of ending the production will eventually have. “It’s going to be a different ending every single night.”
And as audience members enter the theatre, they may find actors in the audience to explain how the voting works and just having little chats with them about the process itself, said Bradshaw.
According to The Guide to Musical Theatre, this “Hilarious musical whodunit was a smash hit on Broadway where it received rave reviews.”
As to the production’s history, Bradshaw noted it was initially staged on Broadway in the 1980s. “It was sort of this unknown show that became a hit and went on to run for more than 600 performances on Broadway. Then about two years ago, it was revived on Broadway and became quite a hit again.” The Mystery of Edwin Drood also snapped up five Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical.
As for playwright Holmes, Bradshaw chuckles as he explains he was surprised to learn it was the same man who penned the famous Pina Colada Song.
“The fact he wrote the book, the lyrics, all of the orchestration – it’s quite incredible. And in talking with Steve Sherman, who is doing the music for us, he was saying he’s impressed with the complexity of this music.”
Musicals of course bring another level of challenge to forming any production, but Bradshaw pointed to the enduring charm of the format. “It’s that moment when what a certain character has to say can’t be contained in the spoken word. They have to break out in song.”
Meanwhile, Bradshaw arrived back in Red Deer last year after being away for about a decade pursuing other educational and professional opportunities. “It’s a little bit like coming home. Red Deer is this place that keeps coming back into my life.
“I came here originally in 1988 as an artist in residence in the very early years of this program. About 12 years ago, I was back working for the City and part-time here, and now I’m actually back and they’ve given me an office!”
It’s been a delight to be guiding the students along in their own artistic and creative journeys as well.
“It’s great to work with these young, talented students and go, okay, here they are in their first steps of their journey and what is it that I need to give them to help them succeed?”
Tickets are available via the Black Knight Inn Ticket Centre. Visit www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626.