Saturday, December 5, 2009

Back in Time: 1985-86: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Part I

I love to look back at favorite shows (and some not so favorite) and see who was involved in it, both onstage and off, and see what has become of them since. Some shows seem to be chock full of now-famous people who had me either scratching my head as to why they were on Broadway, or excited about seeing them again. From time to time, I thought I might check up on certain shows and share my findings with you.

The 1985-86 season was, by most accounts, lackluster. Musical-wise, there were no Cats sized hits. At that point, anything less than Cats was popularly thought of as somehow lacking. Funny that in the next two seasons, Broadway would find two of its biggest hits ever. But that year did have two shows that were artistically unique and both, to a certain degree, have stood up pretty well over time. Those shows were Song and Dance (featuring Bernadette Peters in her first Tony-winning role) and the show I'm discussing today, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The debut effort of Rupert Holmes (above) who wrote the book, lyrics and music (and winning two Tonys for it), the show began as an outdoor summer show in Central Park produced by Joseph Papp (below) and the New York Shakespeare Festival (much like the current revival of Hair). There, the show was tweaked and trimmed and found a huge loyal following, including several groupies who would nightly campaign for their killer of choice.

Based on the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, Drood (as it was later officially called) concerned a British Music Hall troupe who was presenting their version of the story, abruptly stopping the show just where Dickens did (he died), leaving the murderer unnamed, a mysterious detective in disguise and a variety of subplots unresolved. At that point in the show, the audience was polled as to whom they felt "did it." And the troupe acted out the finale according to the vote.

I think the show, which did win 5 Tonys, including Best Musical but had a rather short run, is ripe for revival, given today's audiences' interest in reality shows and TV series that require close scrutiny for clues. An audience weaned on voting from American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and the detail seeking/plot twist heavy shows like Lost, is just what this way-ahead-of-its-time show needs. Today's theatre goers are ready and primed for an entertaining, but thought-provoking audience participation show.

Over the next week, I'll be blogging about where they all are now. I'll write about the creative team, the stars and the ensemble. I think you'll be surprised at how many "names" that are famous today were unknowns back then, and tribute will be paid to those who have passed.

I'll leave you with details about the lone company member who didn't transfer from Central Park to Broadway: Larry Shue.
Today, you very likely know the name Larry Shue, or are familiar with one or more his plays, which include The Nerd and The Foreigner. I know that up here in New England, both plays are performed regularly in high schools, community theatres and even the local colleges.

In Drood, he played The Reverend Mister Crisparkle, man of the cloth, friend of the homeless, and peace keeper with a penchant for young blondes. Sadly, during the hiatus and transfer period between the summer in the park and Broadway, Mr. Shue was tragically killed in a plane crash. Fortunately for us, his legacy lives on in ever production of Drood and his own body of plays.

Do you have any Drood memories you'd like to share? Any other shows you'd like to discuss like this? Add your comment here or write to me at

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