Vietnam and Victoriana

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 19, 2007

“Let’s all be as vulgar and uncivilized as possible,” suggests the Chairman early on, as if inciting Victorian groundlings. And that sets the tone for the winking rough-and-tumble that ensues — though it must be admitted that the vulgarity is of a relatively civilized variety, sans profanity or assault — except, perhaps, on the sensitivities of dewy Rosa Bud, who’s affianced to the title character, by her lecherous voice teacher, Cloisterham Cathedral choirmaster John Jasper, in the tale flattened out of Dickens.

Paul Daigneault’s production is aptly tongue-in-cheek, with lots of amusing things going wrong — as when Jasper, bending to the piano to accompany his pupil, gets to the ivories later than the real keyboardist (part of a capable unseen ensemble supervised by Paul S. Katz and conducted by Dan Rodriguez), or the scalloped red-velvet curtain goes up on backstage chaos. And the cast, which includes a who’s who of Boston musical-theater performers, manages the business of deliberately overacting while singing the show’s ditties — a mixture of period chorale, ominous organ, art song, and Sondheim — with considerable skill. Erin Tchoukaleff (the operatic Rosa) and Leigh Barrett (a bit bland, in a bad wig, in the trousers role of Drood) supply the most sparkling pipes. Will McGarrahan mixes a sinister bit of Cabaret into the florid, punning Chairman. And Kerry A. Dowling, as a guttural Princess Puffer, is the sunniest opium purveyor imaginable. But in response to the show’s assertion that when sleuthing, “sometimes having patience is as good as having brains,” I’d say Drood taxes the former more than the latter.

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