Erin Pettifer as Rosa Bud/ Deidre Peregrine and Warren Stephens playing Clive Paget/John Jasper and in the Red Deer College production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Choose your own mystery

The Mystery of Edwin Drood might as well be called Who Isn’t in Love with Rosa Budd?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood might as well be called Who Isn’t in Love with Rosa Budd?

When Rosa’s long-time fiancé Edwin Drood mysteriously disappears, it becomes a question of which of nine potential suspects is his killer.

Could the murderer be Neville Landless, who arrives from India with his twin sister, promptly falls for Rosa and wants Edwin out of the way? Could it be the Reverend Mr. Crisparkle, who’s similarly infatuated with Drood’s intended wife, since she’s the spitting image of her deceased mother, with whom he was in love?

Or is the culprit Edwin’s split-personality-ed uncle John Jasper? After all, he’s an opium addict with a dark side — who’s also secretly mesmerized by the lovely and alluring Rosa, his music student.

It might be wise to question whether Edwin Drood is dead at all, for his body is never found. And Drood did have the peculiar dream of paving a new road across the Sahara Desert using stones from an Egyptian pyramid. …

A definitive solution to the mystery can never be found, since Charles Dickens, who wrote the novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, died from a stroke when it was only half-finished in 1870.

But that hasn’t stopped audiences at the musical stage version of the Drood story — which will be put on by Red Deer College Theatre Studies students starting on Thursday, Nov. 20 — from deciding how the melodramatic plot unfolds.

During every performance at the Red Deer College Arts Centre, viewers will be asked three things: Who killed Edwin Drood? (if, in fact, he is dead at all); which of the play’s characters is really the detective Dick Datchery in disguise?; and which two lovers will provide the play’s happy ending?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes, was the first Broadway musical with multiple endings determined by audience vote. And it was a huge success. After premiering in New York in 1985, it won five Tony Awards, including best musical best book, original score and leading actor.

RDC instructor and show director Tom Bradshaw believes the fun musical will give Red Deer theatregoers a whimsical and entertaining experience with no underlying message whatsoever.

“I hope they get a lot of enjoyment and laughs from it. … It’s a little risque, there’s some language in it, but I would give it a PG rating,” he said. “We hope it’s the kind of show that teenagers will bring their parents to.”

The U.K.-born American playwright Holmes, who incidentally wrote the No. 1 hit Escape (the Piña Colada song), was heavily influenced by his childhood love of English pantomime productions. One of the gender-bending panto traditions brought to this adaptation of Edwin Drood is filling the lead boy role with a female actor. Drood will be played by a young woman, pretending to be a man, in this production, said Bradshaw.

He added that the show has been a terrific enterprise for his second-year students — and a challenging one because of the required singing and dancing numbers.

But the eager young people have risen to the task: “We have a great group of students,” said Bradshaw, who noted the 18 actors will pretend to be members of a Victorian musical hall troupe who are staging a musical based on Dickens’ unfinished novel.

Students in the production side of the theatre program are creating the kind of set that would have been seen in Victorian times — which means an elaborately ornate proscenium arch over the stage, and painted canvas scenery that can be dropped down from the rafters and later whisked away for quick set changes.

Bradshaw said the show will also involve help from the RDC music department, which has provided vocal coaching as well as the nine-piece band that will play in an orchestra pit in front of the stage.

More inter-departmental collaborating is being encouraged, noted the instructor, who anticipates working with visual arts as well as music departments in years to come. “It’ll be interesting — (it’s a matter of) how do you create around what they have created?”

Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. shows on Nov. 20 to 22 and Nov. 26 to 29 (1 p.m. matinees on Nov. 22 and 29) are $26.80, or $21.80 for students, seniors, from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

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