When you hear the name Charles Dickens, you almost automatically put in your mind an image of that cute little orphan boy roaming the streets of London picking pockets, or maybe the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future guiding Scrooge on a walk down memory lane. You probably don't think of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In picking their show for the Curtain Up celebration, the Kavinoky Theatre did, and the entire Buffalo theatre community has benefited from it.
The concept of Drood is a show within a show, so each actor onstage portrays a character in the company's production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" as well as "themselves." Also, the audience is able to vote on the outcome of the show. They vote on what character is also the Detective Dockery, who has been assigned to investigate Drood's murder. They vote on which character is actually the murderer. And in a unique twist, they vote on which male and female pair should find love at the end of the show. The story itself is Dickens' last; in fact, as described by the charming Brian Mysliwy as the troupe's leader, Dickens died in the middle of writing it (hence the ability to vote on its ending). The Kav's production is exquisite, with a beautifully dressed unit set that can relocate the audience to several places and locales within London proper. Director Norman Sham has accurately captured the spirit of Drood, and whether it is by his direction or the actors' own command of comic timing, the ridiculously laughable elements of the story are spot on.
Mysliwy leads the cast as the somewhat bumbling manager. He is physically a gem, darting around the stage and even "stepping in" for one of the actors and creating an entirely different persona for that character. His physical comedy is met without question by his comic timing. Mysliwy, who is one of Buffalo's most consistently impressive performers, does not disappoint in any aspect of his role in this production. As the devilishly mysterious music master John Jasper, Brian Riggs is stellar as usual. In these archetypal characters, most "good" actors would struggle to get the hand movements and types just right. Riggs, instead, is a truly good actor and investigates the archetype's true motivations, successfully creating a thoroughly terrifying and yet somehow pitiful Jasper. As his nephew, the titular Drood, is Michele Marie Roberts. She is, of course, the renowned Miss Alice Nutting, known for her breeches roles. Roberts shines as Drood, and her ending number, which her alter ego Nutting adds into the show, is stellar. And yes, folks, that is she does belt all the way into the stratosphere (E). As Drood's fiancée and Jasper's music pupil, with whom Jasper is desperately in love, Eliza Hayes Maher and her adept soprano stylings soar. "Moonfall" has always been one of my favorite numbers in the show, and Hayes Maher handles it with proficiency evident of not only excellent training, but a naivety not always easy to create. As the bumbling Bazzard, Kevin Kennedy earns the limelight his actor-character desires. He is exquisitely hilarious and lovable in every way. Kennedy's work, it seems to me, often grants him the honor of being the detective. Rounding out the extremely talented cast are Debbie Pappas as Princess Puffer (the lovable strumpet that gains the audience's affection), Tom Owen as the Reverend who takes in two orphans from India, played wonderfully in this production by Marc Sacco and the elegant Charmagne Chi. Gerry Maher is amazingly talented and comically impeccable in his role as Mysliwy's foil. He's another of the "usual suspects" who never fails to disappoint. Additionally, Kurt Erb and Nick Lama shine in their minimal, but hugely important, parts. And where would any show be without its' faithful ensemble?
If you're not going to be able to see the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Drood, and you're in the Buffalo area, you NEED to see this show. It's a delightful romp through one of a brilliant author's weaker stories. The Mystery of Edwin Drood runs through 10/7 at the Kavinoky Theatre. Call 716-829-7668 or visit www.kavinokytheatre.com for tickets.