Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Santa Barbara High Stages Dickens Musical
This exciting and playful production succeeded in tearing down the theater’s well-known “fourth wall,” that invisible barrier separating the audience from the action, and it did so in multiple ways. First, there were the direct physical assaults, as when, in the opening number, Aaron Linker (who played the Music Hall Royale actor Mr. Clive Paget) and his character (the sinister choirmaster John Jasper) jumped off the stage and landed just before the front row, his leap perfectly timed to emphasize his self-assessment as “quite mad.”
Then there was the orchestra pit, or should that be lagoon? In any case, this orchestra occupied a tight space below yet inside the stage, so that the actors had room to pass in front of them. Additionally, as if that is not enough, there’s the gimmick, which in Drood goes back to the sad fact that the story’s author died before he finished the plot. As a result, in this production, based on the Rupert Holmes Broadway hit of 1986, the audience gets to vote on who the murderer is, and thus on what ending is performed each night.
Theater people, and especially music-hall types, had a bad reputation in the 19th century, and thankfully, Drood does nothing to dispel this. The gang onstage enjoy lewd double entendres, and they are eager to go “off to the races” at a moment’s notice. Some of them, it was implied, are even for sale, or at least rent, by unaccompanied members of the audience. It’s all in (quite wicked) fun, and the Santa Barbara High School cast does a stunning job keeping it afloat. Besides Linker’s dynamically dastardly villain, there are star turns by Meredith Lemert, Rio Salazar, Irving Soto, Natalie Cvitanic, Nick Blondell, and Camille Umoff, who plays Alice Nutting and the title role of Edwin Drood, each with dazzling appeal. Congratulations to the entire team at SBHS for creating such a memorable night of theater.