BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
A wonderfully daffy musical whodunit that the audience gets to solve, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” returned to Broadway on Tuesday in a smashing Roundabout revival.
Ever see it? Among my personal favorites, this mock-Victorian murder mystery musical was ingeniously and delightfully crafted in 1985 by Rupert Holmes (book, music, lyrics and orchestrations) from an unfinished thriller by Charles Dickens, who died halfway through its writing.
Holmes’ concept was to relate the story as enacted by a raffish 1870s troupe in a London music hall, which suits the layout for Studio 54, where director Scott Ellis stages the rollicking proceedings with a frisky company.
The presentational style of music hall entertainment enables the players to interact with the audience to figure out the musical’s ending: Which bewhiskered stranger is someone else in disguise? Who killed Edwin Drood? Who will the pair of lovers be? However the audience’s several choices via cheers and a (legitimate) hand vote turn out, Holmes has written appropriately funny material to accommodate it.
Before that, the show-within-the-show mixes a richly tuneful score, which possesses both 19th-century flavor and Broadway-style punch, with an amusing spoof on gaslight melodramatics. Let’s not try to describe the dastardly doings on a dark and stormy night that Dickens establishes, but get on with complimenting the vivacious actors, who double as music hall entertainers and the mystery’s characters.
Freed from “Smash,” a handsomely tongue-in-cheek Will Chase seethes and sings with fury as a drug-addled choirmaster who lusts after Betsy Wolfe’s oh-so-demure heroine affianced to his nephew Edwin. As the male impersonator (and backstage diva) embodying the valiant but ill-fated title figure, Stephanie J. Block brightly hits all the high notes of both characters. Chita Rivera blesses the role of Princess Puffer, a bawdy trollop, with the easy authority of a genuine legend.