The cast and crew of London’s Music Hall Royale simply delight in delighting you. With infectious enthusiasm, they tell you dirty jokes, sit boldly in your lap, compliment your eveningwear, and can even arrange for you to get to know the show’s ingenue a little better after the show. And in between all those shenanigans, of course, they’re also putting on a play. It’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and based on a book Charles Dickens didn’t live long enough to finish writing, but no matter: The Music Hall’s eager performers want so much to entertain you that they will entrust you, dear viewer, with deciding whodunit.
The actors who portray these cheeky British performers make up the cast of Good Theater’s spectacularly entertaining latest musical comedy, which shares the name of the show within it. Under the exemplary direction of Brian Allen, this stellar ensemble of fifteen portrays the rowdy Music Hall gang, themselves under the cheeky direction of the Chairman (Glenn Anderson), portraying the archetypally Dickensian inhabitants of the small town of Cloisterham. The tale begins with a revealing meeting between the ill-fated young Edwin Drood — portrayed by famed male-impersonator diva Miss Alice Nutting (Tanya Whitman) — and Drood’s choirmaster uncle John Jasper — played by the affable Mr. Clive Paget (Stephen Underwood).
As far as Edwin knows, he and his uncle are as close as can be. Unfortunately, poor Edwin doesn’t seem to notice, as we do, how Jasper starts spitting, snarling, and contorting his face evilly every time Edwin mentions his imminent marriage to Jasper’s lovely music student, Rosa Bud, portrayed by Miss Deirdre Peregrine, the Music Hall’s star ingenue for the last twenty years (Karen Stickney). When Drood later disappears, Jasper is rather too obvious a suspect, but luckily, there’s a colorful assortment of other folks with motives.
In the rollicking tradition of the British music hall, Good Theater’s Drood is robustly bawdy and wittily self-reflexive. As you might guess from the play-within-a-play conceit, this is theater that revels in the tropes and trappings of theater — its divas, its last-minute crises and heroics, its bright and lusty artifice.
All this calls for strong and supple acting, and the performers of Good Theater’s Drood make up one of the most accomplished, cohesive, and genuinely fun casts I have seen in any city. Particularly winning are big-voiced Cathy Counts as Miss Angela Prysock as Princess Puffer, the tough and lusty whore-turned-opium-den-proprietor, and the agile Jessica Peck as Miss Janet Conover as the ferocious Ceylonese twin Helena Landless. John Nutting is a riot as Mr. Nick Cricker as the bumbling gravedigger Durdles, and I was made quite giddy by the snarly mugging of Stephen Underwood’s Jasper. Underwood’s hyperactive eyebrows seem to cast shadows all their own, and his lean arms and digits frequently splay and stiffen with skeletal villainousness.