“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs through April 21 at The Candlelight Theatre. Tisa DellaVolpe photo courtesy of Candlelight Theatre.

How Candlelight prepares for all those endings of ‘Drood’

Ken MammarellaHeadlines, Culture

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs through April 21 at The Candlelight Theatre. Tisa DellaVolpe photo courtesy of Candlelight Theatre.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs through April 21 at The Candlelight Theatre. Tisa DellaVolpe photo courtesy of The Candlelight Theatre.

“The Mystery Edwin Drood” poses an unusual mystery. It’s not because the musical has a complex plot that challenges the audience to outwit the playwright. It’s because the audience decides the ending.

Director Jeff Reim figures there are about 480 endings, and each one deserved time and attention during rehearsals for the production, at The Candlelight Theatre in Ardentown through April 21.

“Drood” is a 1985 musical by Rupert Holmes, based on the 1870 novel by Dickens. Dickens died before finishing the work, so Holmes, a prolific writer across multiple media, finished it for him.

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“You never know what the audience is going to select, and you have to be prepared for any of them,” Reim said of the various endings. The audience votes on three things:

  • Which character is playing detective Dick Datchery? The audience gets five choices, and the winner gets his or her own solo.
  •  Who killed Drood? Eight suspects are possible, but that number is immediately cut down to seven, once the Datchery portrayer is picked. And the winner, once again, gets his or her own solo.
  • And since the chairman (a character functioning as the narrator, played by Bob Gatchel) notes “we’re all entitled to a happy ending,” which of three female characters is matched with which of six male characters to sing a happy duet?

The math averages out to 480 variations, Reim said, when all three votes are considered.

“There are a few choices that are more popular than others, probably because of the investment the audience has made in those characters,” he said. “They were particularly funny or particularly creepy or sympathetic or whatever.”

“Holmes provides copious notes in the back of the script to make it less likely they’ll pick the same one each time,” he said.

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What Candlelight does

One simple technique is varying the order of the characters when they’re lined up on the edge of the stage for the vote. That’s because audience members seem to start out a little shy at first when voting with their applause, and are more boisterous later, he said.

Another twist: The choices for detective and duet are conducted by applause, but the choice for murderer is conducted by members of the ensemble who fan out into the audience and poll eight districts.

Those results are known only to the person doing the final count, the sound crew and the character playing Durdles (Shaun Yates) until Durdles points and shouts out the murderer’s name. And that character has only four beats to prepare for their solo. “Every murderer suspect is on pins and needles waiting in anticipation that their name is going to be called,” he said.

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Rehearsals began in late January, and he and production team made sure that “everybody had a chance to rehearse their confession.”

More than 200 endings have been suggested for the novel, said Louisa Price, curator of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. When the University of Buckingham set up a vote to publicize a 2015 exhibition about it, the most popular choice among 15,000 votes was John Jasper, Drood’s uncle.

Holmes’ script acknowledges that popularity (or is it – cue ominous music – misdirection?) and gives Jasper a confession that might be explained away as an opium-induced hallucination.

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“It’s a brilliant piece of art,” Reim said of “Drood,” noting that he fell in love with it when his high school produced it the year after he graduated and he was studying theater at Glassboro State (now Rowan). Since then, he’s worked as director, music director, scenic designer or some combination of those roles in five or six productions of “Drood,” which he calls one of his top 10 favorite musicals.

Reim,  a composer and lyricist who has directed multiple times at Candlelight, calls Holmes a “master of internal rhyme,” referring to rhymes in the middle of lines of lyrics, in addition to the rhymes at the ends.

“The music is very catchy, too,” and he likes “the whole idea that it’s based on Dickens’ last novel and uses a semblance of the characters from the novel and turns it into a ‘choose your own adventure’ book.”

The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs through April 21 at The Candlelight Theatre. Tickets are available online and at the box office.


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