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'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' Brings Comedic Twist to Unfinished Murder Mystery

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Mystery novels are some of the most read across the board, but rarely do they allow the reader to choose the ending.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the last novel Charles Dickens wrote before his death, and unfortunately the novel was never finished. But in the eyes of musical author Rupert Holmes (and author of Escape [The Pina Colada Song] by Jimmy Buffett), however, this unfinished work made for a perfect play-in-a-play musical filled with audience participation.
Directed my Amanda Wansa Morgan, Ole Miss Theatre opens the show, more commonly known as simply Drood, at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Fulton Chapel.
“In essence, we are watching a troop of musical hall actors from the 1890s in Britain putting on a production of what they consider to be a dramatic rendition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood — but a lot of things go wrong,” Morgan said. “So it’s less about the actual story of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and more about the experience of watching a group of actors trying to survive putting on a musical that has no ending and a story that has a lot of flaws.”
IMG_6471Morgan and expert scenic designer Dex Edwards came up with many humorous bits throughout the show that bring more humor to the dark, depressing story of Edwin Drood. The pair often leans toward comedy in dark moments, filling the production with intentional accidents that happen in shows every night across the country, like falling scenery and incompatible castmates.
Edwards’ design extends far beyond the stage, encompassing the entirety of Fulton Chapel, transforming it from a typical lecture hall with a stage to a 1890s music hall. The stage is surrounded by actors sitting at tables and watching the production, helping the audience react to moments and figure out what is meant to be humorous.

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Caroline Lyell as Rosa Bud

Senior Skyler Thomas plays Alice Nutting who, in turn, plays Edwin Drood. All of the students were essentially cast into two roles – one as an actor and one as a character. The two will have similarities that overlap, but the cast brings distinction to separate their two roles.
“I wanted to create an actual person who experiences pain and rejection and uses that to drive her talent,” Thomas said. “At one point in the show, all of the actors vote Alice out of the show by killing the character of Drood. It would be simple for me to throw a fit about not being in the spotlight and not getting my moments of fame. But in actuality, I think that is a moment of realization for Alice. My mission was to create a living, breathing person full of insecurities, struggles and confidence, and I hope that comes across.”
Edwin Drood is accompanied by his longtime (since birth) fiancée, Rosa Bud, played by Deirdre Peregrine played by Ole Miss senior Caroline Lyell.
Lyell has been seen on the Ole Miss stages in Showstoppers, Hairspray and Urinetown, but this show is a different kind of experience.
“You will never get tired of doing this show because you’re always on your toes,” Lyell said. “We won’t know until about 45 seconds before we have to do the scene who the audience chose (as the murderer). This is different from anything else I’ve done.”
Since the novel was never finished, Dickens was unable to pinpoint a murderer and a few other parts important to the ending. Because of that, the audience gets to decide the fate of the show and what they see in the second act.
Actors will ask for votes at intermission of who the audience believes is the killer, and the crew will tally the numbers and tell the cast who has to take on which roles with a moment’s notice. Morgan said with the combination of votes, there are more than 400 possible outcomes for the show, and while all of them have been staged, some of the scenes will have moments of improv.
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Nathan Burke as John Jasper and Caroline Lyell as Rosa Bud

Senior Nathan Burke takes on the role of Clive Paget, who plays Drood’s uncle John Jasper. While Burke has been seen in Ghostlight Repertory Theatre productions, this is his first lead in a musical.
Rosa Bud has a number of admirers, and creepy John Jasper is one of her distant suitors. He can often be found hiding in the shadows with a dangerous smile or planning the demise of his nephew.
“While Clive is a typically slightly arrogant and uppity turn of the century leading male actor, Jasper is a fun mixture of darkness and silliness that kind of combines two things I think I do pretty well on stage,” Burke said. “It’s kind of impossible for me not to have a good time. My approach to my roles in Drood had been much like that of all roles I take on in that I just strive to tell my part of the story as honestly and effectively as possible. As long as I do that, and continue to build on my performance as the show continues, I think I’m serving the show and my company well.”
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Rachel Staton as the Princess Puffer

Junior Rachel Staton is also new to the list of leading ladies in Ole Miss musicals as Angela Prysock and the Princess Puffer.
Staton said the ensemble is a major part of the show, which is rare in large musicals. The ensemble is often there to fill the spaces and provide extra voices to large numbers, but Morgan opted to make each character have a purpose and share a bit of the spotlight.
“We did a lot of study on music hall performers, and we did a lot of work with creating who we thought we were,” Staton said. “It gave us a lot of artistic freedom and it also gave us time to work with the people we’re on stage with to figure out relationships. We have a web of real human beings, and that’s something that’s very specific to this show. It really does feel like we are the actors performing the show.”
The Mystery of Edwin Drood runs 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Fulton Chapel. Tickets can be purchased through the UM Box Office online or in the student union.
Amelia Camurati is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com and can be reached at amelia.camurati@hottytoddy.com.

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