By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Charles Dickens had the effrontery to die in 1869 before he wrote the ending of his last novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” leaving the whodunit question unanswered for all time.
Or at least until 1985, when British-American pop songwriter Rupert Holmes did him a favor: Holmes didn’t finish the story, but instead fashioned a play-within-a-musical, which allowed the audience to decide by vote who killed Drood. Considering there are 400 possible endings here, that’s a considerable (and amusing) responsibility to place on the audience.
It was Holmes’ first foray into writing for theater, and he won two of the show’s five Tony Awards (for the book and the score).
OnStage Playhouse and upstart Turning Tydes Theatre Company present a rollicking co-production of the musical through Dec. 8 at OnStage, directed by Alex Bezdeka.
It’s nearly impossible to keep up with (or even count) all the characters here, partly because of the framing device: This is a troupe of music hall players presenting the Dickens tale. Let’s just say that 17 actors take care of all the goings-on.
In keeping with pantomime tradition, Georgia Ladd serves as The Chairman, the narrator/ringmaster for this circus. She is remarkable, and onstage nearly the entire time. She also plays the mayor Sapsea, accomplished with voice, attitude and minor costume changes.
Then there’s choirmaster John Jasper (Tyler C. Jiles) — cute but dictatorial — in love with the adorable orphan Rosa Bud (Summer Blinco). And Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood (Jordan Hall Campbell), engaged (by their parents) to Rosa.
And the orphaned Landless twins Neville (Jacob Painter) and Helena (Kaitlyn Summers). Neville is handsome but a bit creepy-looking; Helena is exotic-looking.
No British play of the period is complete without a religious figure. Here, it’s the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle (Patrick O’Connor), who may have other than godly intentions.
Then there’s Durdles, the headstone carver (the Dickens version of Shakespeare’s gravedigger), played with great working-class panache by Allen Hopkins. Durdles (who knows where the bodies are buried) has an assistant, the young Deputy (Hourie Klijian).
But my hands-down favorite is down-to-earth decadent Princess Puffer (Kat Fitzpatrick), proprietor of a London opium den, who sees to her customers’ chemical needs. Fitzpatrick steals every scene she’s in, and gets a great song (“The Wages of Sin”) to boot.
Don’t get the idea that anything serious is going on here. This is a winking throwback to the genre, cast with several wonderful singing actors I’d not seen on local stages. I hope to see more of them.
Kudos to director Alex Bezdeka for keeping all those balls in the air and making the audience enjoy all the mayhem.
This is a multi-talented group. Candace Carbajal (also playing Sarah Cook) gives the show amusing choreography, and Jordan Hall Campbell (also playing The Chairman) is credited with musical direction. This production is done with recorded orchestra, but tapes and singers merge flawlessly.
If you’re looking for relief from the hectic holidays, it’s hard to resist a show where the audience is advised to “loosen your corsets and enjoy yourselves.”
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.