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Tuesday
Jan292013

[FIPS WAS THERE...] 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' at Studio 54

[VIA JOAN MARCUS]

We here at FIPS spend a hell of a lot of time out and about, attending outdoor concerts, comedy shows and various other events. So [FIPS Was There...] is where we're gonna' talk about all this shit.

I see a lot of theater. Like, a lot. If there was a "Buy 10, Get 1 Free" punch card at the TKTS Booth in Times Square, I'd have nabbed up at least 5 free shows last year. 

But as someone who loves theater, even I get nervous at shows that involve audience participation. The second I see actors creeping through the audience, looking for potential victims to interact with or pull up on stage, I immediately duck for cover. I avoid eye contact as if I'm on a crowded subway filled with buskers. "Please, dear God, leave me out of it," I say to myself. 'Cause after a busy day of interacting with all sorts of crazy people, the last thing I want to do when I'm seeing a piece of entertainment is talk to someone.* 

Which is why I was a little scared walking into the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Studio 54. There, walking around the orchestra moments before showtime, were a dozen or so cast members chatting up the audience. Within minutes, they had started the show, pulling an audience member up to the stage for a bit. And then they announced that the audience would be helping determine the ending of the show. When these fuckers do audience participation, they really commit!

Lucky for me, Roundabout's The Mystery of Edwin Drood found a way to make my audience participation anxiety all but disappear. And wouldn't you know it, by the end, I was actually clamoring to have my vote heard.

Part of the reason Drood won me over so quickly is because it never takes itself seriously - not something you'd expect knowing the show's a musicalized version of a Charles Dickens's novel. (I'm pretty sure the Great Expectations musical is not nearly as funny.) But Drood tells the action of the story, which involves the disappearance of our title character, through the eyes of an old-fashioned English music-hall troupe putting on a performance of said unfinished show. As they ham it up on stage, they do so with a wink and nod to the audience, who are clearly in on the joke. 

Led by Jim Norton's master of ceremonies, the troupe is filled with egotistical actors (Stephanie J. Block's Alice Nutting, the company's famous male impersonator playing our title character who is seemingly hated by her peers, for one), slapstick comedians, showgirls, villains, and a living legend or two (CHITA FUCKING RIVERA YOU GUYS). Together, they bring an insatiable energy to the stage - so much so that the forgettable songs and silly plot are easily overlooked. Director, Scott Ellis, has cast the show perfectly. Betsy Wolfe, Will Chase, Andy Karl, Jessie Mueller - there's not a bad actor in the bunch. 

But the real beauty here is Rupert Holmes's script, and the way the show handles the unfinished ending of Dickens's last novel (Charlie died before he finished writing Drood). Halfway through the second act, the action stops short, and the audience is given the responsibility of deciding how things turn out. The outcomes are different every evening. But no matter who you and/or your audience chooses, the endings are damned enjoyable and by far the best part of the show.  

There are a lot of shows on Broadway today. But none of them provide as clever an evening as The Mystery of Edwin Drood. For a fun night outside of the Slope, I'd give it a shot. 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St. through March. 10. Call (212) 719-1300 or go to www.roundabouttheatre.org for tickets and showtimes. 

*Sidenote: I'm not the only one who feels this way. Behold, one of my favorite Onion articles of all time

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