Extraordinary talent makes 'Edwin Drood' a resounding success

First Year Players' first production of year engages and thrills packed audience

As I entered the Student Activities Building Sunday evening, I was not sure what to expect. I had seen scores of turquoise posters and T-shirts bearing the First Year Players logo around Grounds throughout the week, and I was intrigued to see if FYP’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood was worth the hype.

The first thing I noticed was the audience. The makeshift theater was packed with students and parents and, surprisingly, some of the actors. Before the show and during the interval, the cast of Edwin Drood, appropriately adorned in 19th-century garb, roamed the aisles, striking up conversations with playgoers. These interactions made for an entertaining opening.

The play began with a speech given by the chairman of the Music Hall Royale (Mitchell Minahan). As the entire cast joined him for the first musical number, “There You Are”, it became clear how demanding a task FYP had taken on. Edwin Drood is not only a play within a play; it is also a play with multiple endings. Based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished mystery novel of the same name, the play follows the Music Hall Royale ensemble as they enact the story of young Edwin Drood (Rachel Mink), an orphan living in Cloisterham, England. Central to the plot is Edwin’s uncle, John Jasper (Zach Showalter), who is in love with his student, Rosa Bud (Willa Sweeney) — another young orphan who just so happens to be betrothed to Edwin. Although the play seems to have all the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy, the antics of the Music Hall Royale actors kept the show light and comical.

During the second act, the chairman asks the audience to make three critical plot decisions. The audience then votes for who they would like to see play the part of the detective, Dick Datchery; who they would like to cast as the murderer; and which two characters they would like to see fall in love in the end.

As a result of this unorthodox take on audience participation, the cast had to be prepared for a variety of outcomes. Sunday evening, the foreigner Neville Landless (Rishi Malhotra) was cast as Datchery and Reverend Crisparkle (Tim Lewis) was chosen as the murderer. The audience also decided they wanted to see Princess Puffer (Emily Yates), the matron of an opium lair, and Durdles (Dan Barr), a stonemason, to fall in love. I was particularly impressed by the cast’s adaptability. Each actor seamlessly transitioned from the world of Cloisterham to the world of the Music Hall Royale, and all flawlessly adapted to the plot modifications. The excellent acting, singing and dancing skills on display made for a number of memorable musical numbers and show-stopping comic scenes.

The extraordinary talent displayed Sunday evening, alone, made watching Edwin Drood a worthwhile experience. When FYP puts on its spring performance, I will certainly be in the audience.

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