The Ultimate Whodunit -- Light Opera of New Jersey Presents "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"
Imagine how you would feel if Damon Lindelof died before completing the final episodes of his television show “Lost?”…OK, well, maybe that’s a poor example, given the extreme reactions to the final episode. How about if George R.R. Martin died before we got any more of the “Game of Thrones” story? Will Sansa be Queen of the North? Will Jon Snow be satisfied now just hanging out in Winterfell? Will Daenerys succeed in her quest to take the Iron Throne? You’d never know for sure, right?
While I’d bet that the TV show would keep going, we’d never really know what Martin intended to happen in the end. There’d probably be tons of fans who would insist that THEY know how the story should have ended and numerous fan-fiction endings would be created.
That’s kinda true with “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (you knew I had a point with this, right?). The musical was based on a novel by Charles Dickens, which was famously left unfinished at the time of his death in June of 1870. Not only was it unfinished, but the ending (and the answer to the murder mystery!) is unknown.
Originally planned to be released in 12 installments from April 1870 through February 1871 (publishing stories like this in serialized format while the remainder was still being written was a fairly common practice in the 19th century), only the first six parts of "Drood" were published. The remaining six installments were never completed… by Dickens, that is.
Of course, since the time of Dickens’ death, writers have been preoccupied with writing endings for this work and solving its mystery. These have come in the form of several published endings for the novel, and in numerous adaptations for film, TV, radio and theater.
The most famous of these adaptations, of course, is the musical theater comedy by Rupert Holmes, originally produced in 1986. This Tony Award-winner for best musical that year will be presented by Light Opera of New Jersey (LONJ) from July 8 through July 17 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. LONJ is a premier operetta, opera and musical theater company founded in 1995 by William Corson, executive producer, and Lauran Corson, artistic director.
What’s the deal with the mystery and why are people so worked up about it, you ask? Well, as the story begins, we find that Edwin Drood is reluctantly betrothed to the young, beautiful Rosa Bud. Drood’s uncle, John Jasper, is obsessively entranced by Rosa and loathes the prospect of her wedding. A new competitor, Neville Landless, moves into town and instantly falls for Rosa, but Neville gets into a heated fight with Drood when they first meet. When Drood goes missing shortly after with only a bloodstained coat left behind, the whole town believes the murderer must be Neville or Jasper, until it becomes clear that everyone in town also has a motive for killing Drood.
So what’s an audience member to do? Help decide who has murdered Drood, of course! There are plenty of opportunities for the audience to participate in the show, which has a different surprise ending every night.
Jeffrey Fiorello, who directs the production, tells me that there are probably more than 100 different possible endings – which must keep the cast on their toes!
It’s kind of like those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that I, for one, was obsessed with as a kid. I loved the idea that the story wasn’t the same each time, and that I had some sway over its direction, and was not just a passive consumer of someone else’s product.
This new production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is directed by Jeffrey Fiorello with music direction by Stephen Fox and is produced by William Corson. The entire cast is from New Jersey – and proud of it!
And the stage cast, along with Fiorello, he tells me, are just looking forward to the arrival of their final cast members: you, the audience members, whom he hopes will have as much fun on the performance journey as they did.
While it’s undeniably frustrating that we don’t know exactly how Dickens intended to finish the ending of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” I always wonder whether the story would be as popular if we had his definitive written ending. Without that decisive conclusion, we’re free to speculate and argue about the identity of the murderer. It would be almost disappointing now if someone found a long-lost Dickens sketch or manuscript of the final chapters, proving some fans correct, but likely many more incorrect about the villain’s identity.
The Light Opera of New Jersey presents Rupert Holmes’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” on July 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 8:00 p.m. and on July 10 and 17 at 2:00 p.m. at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, located at 1 SOPAC Way, South Orange, NJ 07079. For more information, visit lightoperaofnewjersey.org.