Chaos Attraction

Shakespeare Festival Day

2015-07-25, 7:04 a.m.

Today was the Shakespeare Festival day! Two shows in one day! Had Mom come up for that again.

So this afternoon I saw The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was marvelous. It so far wins for Most Unusual Musical I’ve seen, beating the preceding winner The Drowsy Chaperone.

This one is based off the unfinished book of the same name, except it’s a musical comedy. It’s also a show within a show, being performed by a British musical hall cast in the 1800’s. They break the fourth wall a LOT (heck, the entire cast is mingling in the audience before the show*--the ladies are all in their underwear, no less, probably because it’s hard to climb around the seats in full dresses). Heck, every time a new cast member comes on, they’re introduced by their actor’s “real name” (er, not the real life actor’s name) and they take a little showy bow about it. At one point a cast member is called out for being too drunk to play the part of the mayor, so the narrator has to do it as well as his usual job. Actors climb about in the audience periodically. I was in the front row and got up close and personal pretty frequently.

* I hit it off with two of the lady cast members, as we mutually complimented each other’s outfits. Hah. One of them ripped up sheet music and threw it right at me later. She likes me!

Oh yeah, and since the plot was never finished*, most of act 2 is dedicated to taking votes among the cast and/or audience as to the following:

(a) The role of Dick Datchery, the random detective that shows up in Act 2, is played by the same actress** in a terrible beard, giant coat and deerstalker hat. We’re told by the narrator this is more for contractual obligations rather than the author’s plot, but shall the cast vote on whether or not Edwin Drood is actually dead or faking it and investigating his murder? They vote that he’s dead, mostly to annoy the crap out of the actress, who throws a snit fit, puts on a lady outfit, and stomps out. (You don’t KNOW what kind of a week we’ve had with her....)

(b) Let’s vote for who murdered Drood! The actors go into the audience and ask different sections to vote. For the record, the most obvious suspect, Jasper*, originally confesses to the crime, but then we’re told it’s someone else...whoever won your vote. For the showing I saw, it was Helena Landless. They all apparently have reasons written in the script depending on how the vote goes, which made me wish there was a Clue-type DVD out there so I could see all the options. (Alas, there is not, but if you look for show soundtracks online you can find the varying confession songs.)

(c) So we can have a happy ending, two of the remaining cast members--let’s keep it ladies and gentlemen rather than same sex, please, that’s another show-- shall be voted on to fall in love with each other, whether they’ve actually spoken to each other in the show or not. In this showing it ended up being Princess Puffer and the Deputy who were forced to do a reprise of the “Perfect Strangers” love ballad--which I suppose is fitting. (Though the fellow playing Durdles kept doing dirty things with his shovel under his coat, I think that almost won him the vote.)

* read this entry for what is known about what the author intended for the ending.
** for reasons of amusement, Edwin Drood is played by a lady.

And then finally, what the heck, the actress returns and Edwin Drood crops up alive again in the orchestra pit. Tra-la!

Much to my sad, I can’t seem to find the musical on the usual places one might see it, but I did find a YouTube version. I'd love to see a DVD of this done Clue-style.

The director’s note in the program is great:
“Ruuuuupert!” This was often exclaimed, (mostly by me) during rehearsals of this production of Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Why? Well, for the guy that wrote the charming yet simplistic (with all of its couplets) Pina Colada song, Mr. Holmes has many detailed and sometimes impossible suggestions (all throughout the script) of how he imagines Drood to be directed and performed. And not only are his stage directions complicated, but the entire structure and storyline of the play itself is quite the intricate knot (which of course, only time can untie).”

So why did they do it? Because it’s awesome, its a play within a play, audience participation, it’s rarely produced, so that’s awesome.

“Throughout rehearsals we continuously reminded ourselves of how last summer, the “big musical number” was Twelve Days to Christmas, and how this summer, the big musical number is all of the numbers!”

In the evening we saw Twelfth Night. I have to say that that was a comedown compared to the craziness of Drood, but then again, what wouldn’t be, really. Anyway, it was a more normal sort of production. Featured a LOT of accordion--the guy playing Feste apparently plays on the streets of LA normally--and he had fun at the opening of act 2 when people were still wandering in and he played various songs (“Take Me Out To The Ballgame”) while hinting that people should be throwing money in his case.

I really liked the casting of Viola and Sebastian (both redheads, something that isn’t so apparent in Drood when one perpetually wears a hat and the other has fake curls). They’re around the same height, size, and facial features and you actually buy that people would mistake them, especially when they’re wearing similar or alike blazers/hats/sunglasses. Except toward the end Viola’s ponytail is pretty evident (I swear her hair went from tightly bound to more and more falling out/braid being seen as the show went on, I suspect this is deliberate) and I wanted to go, “HEY, HAVE ANY OF YOU NOTICED THAT CESARIO HAS DIFFERENT HAIR FROM WHEN YOU SAW HIM LAST?” Or at least, why didn’t they tuck the ponytail into her collar.

I love how repertory casting in two different shows can work. Last season the two romantic couples played (the same, essentially) romantic couples in both shows, they just switched off which couple was alpha and which was beta. This year the older couple are still in the show together, but they play uncle and nephew in one show and a failed romantic couple in the other. And this year two ladies play a couple in one show and a failed romantic couple in the second, but they switch off which one of them is playing a dude. Pretty hilarious when you think about it. (Not to mention that literally every show I’ve seen this weekend has girls dressed up as dudes. It’s a theme!) In the looks department, Sebastian was darned cute without a hat. Did not realize that in the first play. On the other hand, the actress that played Princess Puffer was absolutely ravishingly gorgeous in Drood, but in this show had extremely short hair (apparently no wig this time) and uh... honestly, it wasn’t the best look for her. I missed the hair, her head just looked so small without. And to be fair, everyone has plainer outfits in this one too. Though Sir Andrew’s long wig was hilarious.

And I realllllly like that actress playing Rosa/Viola/Cesario, she was excellent and I wish we could hang out now. Hah. I also really enjoy the guy playing the uncle/duke and think it’d be fun as hell to talk to him outside of show, but clearly the duke isn’t nearly as fun and crazy to play as pretty much everything else I have ever seen that actor in. Must have been a comedown for him to have to play someone who’s relatively quiet and doesn’t really do manic eyes at any point in time. (I voted for him as the killer in Drood despite his snarking (yes, directly) that that was the obvious choice. I was just thinking, “Hey, who’s gonna have the most amusing confession scene?” And I was right, nyah.)

It’s still a weird play though. You really wish Malvolio would get revenge and the last scene is everyone being inexplicably happy at weddings and you’re all like, wtf why would he be here now? Also, I think the Sweet On Polly Oliver thing is incredibly hard to pull off plausibly and Shakespeare really, really doesn’t even fucking bother to make that plausible that Orsino (a) switches loyalties/affections in two seconds, (b) to someone he’s presumed for 3 months is a dude, (c) without having some kind of 1500’s Blue Screen Of Death equivalent about his sexuality. So....yeah.

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