Oh, yes. Now I remember. Act Two of Edwin Drood is much more entertaining than Act One.
And that's under the best of circumstances. Which this production, um, wasn't exactly. I mean, Trinity Rep is a great, Tony award winning regional theater and all, but they've never been able to manage to put together a good musical.
First off, the ensemble is just way too earnest. Which makes sense, since their bread and butter is straight theater. Challenging theater. The theater of ideas. Which, la! Guess what? Musical theater ain't, sorry to say. Even with the best of intentions. I mean, the truth is, most of these actors hate playing what they consider to be superficial. And it shows. Plus, several parts were miscast, or cast with performers who possessed barely passable voices.
So, the guy who played John Jasper had a great voice, but was barely menacing, and refused to show any difference between the "good" Jasper and the "bad" Jasper. And actors liked the Reverend possessed a great deal of character but couldn't hold their tunes. Or you had actresses like Anne Scurria, who smirked her way through the entire show, with a smile on her face that said, "You know, I'm really much better than this material."
Secondly, Trinity hates orchestras. And this show desperately needs a strong brass section. For the first twenty minutes of this show, I thought that they were still using canned music, until I chanced upon the band. Oh, look. There they are, sitting less than ten feet from my right.
Honest to God. They were understated to the point of no recognition.
With a misguided cast and an understated orchestra, the plot is left to fend for itself, and let's face it: it's seriously flawed by the fact that Act One goes on WAY TOO LONG.
I think what Rupert "Do You Like Pina Coladas" Holmes was aiming at was to present a modern day Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. And for the subject matter, that's the best approach, I believe. With all the larger-than-life Dickensian characters introduced, bizarre shifts in scenery, and a plot that had yet to make its point before it was abruptly ended, it only makes sense to present waves upon colorful waves of characters, so that you're still being introduced to new ones as late as Act Two (don't think that's how Gilbert and Sullivan plays work? That's exactly the structure of "The Mikado." Introduce new character. Song. Introduce new character. Song. And so on, and so on, until Act One is done. Then, bake them all together during Act Two.) This show even has patter songs!
And the songs are fun. That's what I've always liked about "Drood." They're catchy and bouncy and have witty lyrics, and some of them even managed to work in this setting, even with an understated orchestra and a cast who clearly didn't get their degrees in musical theater.
But even so. Act One just goes on for way. too. long. It makes Oklahoma and Carousel look downright concise.
I blaim Dickens, personally. Because one of the main the reasons Act Two works so much better is because it's freed of the plot structure. There was no choice, really. Charles Dickens died before completing this novel. What this means, however, is that the author, left to his own devices, and cleverly deciding that he would be to leave it to the audience to figure out what to do, goes on to treat these characters as exactly what they are : paper dolls. Silly, interchangeable, goofy paper dolls. And the actors in this show can relate to that, because it's fun and it's clever and it breaks the fourth wall and all that sort of thing.
Now, mind you: the plot structure, devoid of Dickens, is INCREDIBLY weak. It basically consists of "You, dear audience, choose all these things. We'll play out a little scene with the characters that you've chosen. Case solved. Silly love song. Joyous return from the dead. That's it, good night, and don't forget to pack up your empties.
But it's more fun, simply because it's freer and more creative. And the actors had more fire in the bellies, and appeared to be actually enjoying themselves, because they were feeding off the audience response. And given the situation that had been created (audience choose the situation, which creates a number of diferent variations), they couldn't have received much rehearsal time, which made the whole thing fresher.
All in all, I'd give this production a five out of ten. It isn't going to be the best show that I've ever seen at Trinity, but there again, it ain't Ba'al , either. Ba'al. Brrrrrr! (Only play I've ever walked out on.)