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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Meanwhile in New York, the first ever Broadway revival of the 1985 hit, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, has opened and the only paper that matters in Manhattan, the New York Times, is rapturous. Writing for the Times, Charles Isherwood enthused, “In an era when Broadway revivals of beloved musicals can seem dispiritingly skimpy, this handsome production offers a generous feast for the eyes, trimmed in holiday cheer for an added spritz of currency.”

This is the show, also performed at the Kavinoky Theatre earlier this season, in which audience members are invited to vote on the conclusion of Charles Dickens’s final unfinished novel. The Roundabout Theatre has assembled a first-rate Broadway cast to present a production that moves swiftly, yet provides total spontaneity. Studio 54 has been transformed into a 19th-century English musical hall quite convincingly, to offer an evening that is joyful and generous.

Best of all, the production features the reigning empress of Broadway, Chita Rivera, as the Princess Puffer, proprietress of the opium den in which the villain reveals his true nature. Rivera, who will turn 80 during the run, is best known as the original Anita in West Side Story, the original Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, the original Velma in Chicago, and the original Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman, enters from the audience, and from that moment the waves of adoration begin to wash up over the stage and don’t subside until the final curtain. Even in cynical New York, Isherwood was bowed into adulation, writing, “Ms. Rivera sweeps onstage, trailing a welcome air of effortless glamour as the senior diva of the troupe. Bathing in the audience’s rapturous reception, she’s both in character and merrily out of it, and our affection for Ms. Rivera only increases the pleasure we take in the musical’s multiple layers: we can cheer her shamelessly without feeling like vulgarians.”

The rest of the cast basks in the glow of Rivera’s star power and provides perfectly tuned performances. Jim Norton is simply fantastic as the chairman, giving marvelous comic performance and demonstrating total command of the audience-centered music hall style as he interacts with patrons and comments on the action. Stephanie J. Block is a delightful Drood. Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller are hilariously over the top, and in sumptuously good voice as Ceylonese twins Neville and Helena Landless.

The design by Anna Louizos is both simply and luscious, as she suggests the 19th century wing and drop style, while giving the production the jolt of a lavish contemporary Broadway show, shifting between street and cathedral, opium den, dining room, and train station with dizzying and magical efficiency.

Sensing a hit in the making, the Roundabout moved the opening date up a week to benefit from the holiday flourish of theater going in New York. The only drawback to the rapturous reception is that tickets probably just became more difficult to obtain—but the effort will be worth it. I’m going back for a third time in a few weeks!