Thespians Use Democracy to Solve Dickens’ “Mystery of Edwin Drood”


Courtesy of the Steinhardt Vocal Performance Department

Stephen Heller and Stephanie Bacastow fronted the Steinhardt Vocal Performance department’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” as John Jasper and Rosa Bud.

By Satish Reginald and Cayla Berejikian

The power was in the hands of the audience this past weekend at the Steinhardt Vocal Performance Department’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” directed by Dallett Norris. The show’s story is based on the original novel by Charles Dickens. Unfortunately, Dickens passed away before he could complete the story. Norris’ version takes the haunting background of Dickens’ novel and turns it into a wildly intriguing production. It becomes a Hamlet-esque play-within-a-play where a democratic audience vote and a lot of boisterous energy resolves the plot.

The cast members entered the house before the show and split the audience into voting sections. They cracked jokes, commented on the orchestra and took photos with audience members. All actors ultimately played two parts: an actor of the Music Hall Royale and the corresponding character in Music Hall’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Chairman William Cartwright, portrayed by senior Jack Flatley, guides the audience through the story’s events and occasionally offers interpretations from literary scholars.

The play is set at Cloisterham Cathedral and begins with a scene introducing John Jasper, a miserable choirmaster and opium addict. John Jasper is the uncle of Edwin Drood, who is engaged to be married to the lovely Rosa Bud. Newcomer Neville Landless arrives in town, creating a complicated love triangle with Drood and Rosa Bud. When Drood goes missing after Christmas Eve dinner, suspicions of murder arise. Half a year later, a stranger by the name of Dick Datchery arrives in Cloisterham to investigate the area. Around this point in the plot, Dickens had passed away and left his readers with two unresolved mysteries: first, who is Dick Datchery? Second, who murdered Edwin Drood?

Under the helm of Musical Director Ana Flavia Zuim, the show’s songs were soaring highlights as stellar performances were delivered from the entire Steinhardt cast. The roster included senior Alex Guhde as Edwin Drood, junior Stephen Heller as John Jasper, master’s student Ashleigh Junio as Princess Puffer, master’s student Chelsea Smith as Helena Landless, master’s student Stephanie Bacastow as Rosa Bud and many other talented performers. Even when not relying on vocals, the musical numbers shone with gracefully choreographed instrumental scenes.

As John Jasper, Heller was exquisite, and his acting was believably miserable and laughable at the same time. Bacastow expressed a lovely range of emotion in her performance as Rosa Bud. She shone most notably during “Never the Luck,” a duet with Jasper. In that number, Bud’s character transformed from timid to dynamic and commanding as she confronted Jasper. Junio’s performance as Princess Puffer exhibited her comedic timing and charisma. Parker Wallace played Bazzard, the storekeeper Grewgious’s clerk. His character was endearing and quirky, especially in his performance of “Never the Luck” at the end of act one, which was a highlight of the show. Another memorable moment was the short ballet interlude featuring beautiful lifts and energy from the ensemble.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night, and a great display of the actors’ talent, was when Neville Landless’ walking stick accidentally snapped, leaving unsuspecting junior Joseph Valle-Hoag holding onto a stub. The actors played off the mishap beautifully, especially Valle-Hoag, who continued speaking and waved the stub around expressively. The audience went crazy, and the situation was resolved when Chairman William picked up the remainder of the stick and used it to dance offstage. In a later scene, the walking stick returned tied together by a piece of ribbon.

The entire show was flawlessly awkward, and the audience loved the outrageous nature of the mystery as it unfolded. Characters commented on the orchestra’s performance and red streamers were tied on pieces of evidence to resemble blood.

At one point, the London Denizens attempt to start a musical number and the Chairman cuts them off, declaring, “We mustn’t stop the dramatic momentum we’re building here!”
At the end of this performance, the audience voted Buzzard as Dick Datchery and Rosa as the murderer of Edwin Drood. Then, a quick vote determined that the lovers of the story were Reverend Crisparkle, played by the hilarious master’s student Matthew Hougland, and Princess Puffer. The pair performed an outrageously funny duet. All in all, the show was delightful, off-the-wall and an imaginative way to conclude Charles Dicken’s story.

Email Satish Reginald and Cayla Berejikian at [email protected]