In this musical adaptation of Dickens' unfinished mystery, the audience chooses the outcome.

In this musical adaptation of Dickens' unfinished mystery, the audience chooses the outcome.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens’ last novel and his only mystery. The novel appeared in installments in 1870, and just after the sixth appeared (12 were planned), and the titular character disappeared, Dickens died, and the story was left unfinished. For over a century, a debate has raged over who murdered Edwin Drood (and whether he was, in fact, murdered). This week, the Calvin Theatre Company is performing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a 1985 musical adapted by Rupert Holmes from Dickens’ incomplete novel. Holmes’ musical is set in a Victorian-era music hall where fictional performers play Dickens’ characters, creating a play within a play. The novelty of the show, directed by CAS professor Debra Freeberg with musical direction by professor of music Charsie Sawyer, is that it allows the audience to vote on much of the outcome. Freeberg paused in her preparations for tonight’s performance to talk about music hall, hoop skirts and audience participation:

Why made you want to tackle Edwin Drood? I have known about this musical for decades, and the music is really beautiful. When it came out, they had Broadway actors that I have always loved. Also, I love the convention that the audience gets to vote at the end of the night, so the play could be different every night. There are 400 possible combinations. If somebody came to our show all six performances, they will not see the same ending of our show. It’s funny, too. It’s really funny.

What were some of the challenges for the actors?

Students get great training in the style of Victorian England. The women have been rehearsing in corsets and hoops, and the men have been rehearsing in jackets, formal shoes and top hats. You bow and curtsy. You have to move differently when you have a giant hoop skirt around you. Just learning how to wear a hat properly has been a challenge for the men. Learning to do dialects is fun for them. Just learning to do the material. There haven’t been any big blunders.

How have they handled the music?

Charsie Sawyer is the musical director, and she has done a great job. And we have a cast that is very musically talented. Some of their voices are amazing. It’s been a great collaboration with Charsie and colleagues from the music department.

Do you like directing a play set in the Victorian era?

I like different periods. I do like this period. And I do like the style of music hall. Music hall is the precursor of vaudeville which is the precursor of musical theater. You have music hall performers acting in this company, and they go in and out of different characters. One minute they’re Victorian, and the next minute they’re actors performing the characters. You’re going to be thoroughly entertained and just blown away by the talent of these Calvin students.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1–3 and 8–10, 2012 at Calvin’s Gezon Auditorium. Tickets are available at the Covenant Fine Arts Center box office.

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