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'Mystery of Edwin Drood' brings the music hall to life

THEATER REVIEW

October 05, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

That the audience-input aspect of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" remains giddy fun is no surprise. Rupert Holmes' 1986 Tony-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' unfinished 1870 novel has an unbeatable asset in our deciding its outcome.

What is astounding about the benchmark Sacred Fools revival is its ribald immersion in the Victorian music hall ethos. This registers at first sight of designer Joel Daavid's magnificent, venue-spanning set. And Edward Marks' superb lighting plot lacks only footlights in its inventive ambience.

Clad in Suzanne Klein's period costumes, the players spontaneously interact with us until Brandon Clark's Mr. Throttle bangs his stick to start the show. Tim Thorn enters as arch Chairman Cartwright. Music director Bill Newlin's pert band opens "There You Are," as the Music Hall Royale erupts in John Pennington's witty choreography.

Though agreeable, Holmes' score is stylistically diffuse. For all its ingenuity, his overstuffed libretto can feel arbitrary. Yet under Douglas Clayton's inspired direction, the environmental approach emphasizes "Drood's" strengths and shrinks its weaknesses, aided by a sterling ensemble.

Thorn's nimble interlocutor recalls accounts of Gilbert and Sullivan comic George Grossmith. As the title hero and the "male impersonator" who portrays him, Rachel Greene is fearless, even with an underplayed Act 2 snit. Matthew Tyler's rapid vibrato and pealing delivery are perfect for sinister John Jasper. Natalie Taylor blends vocal purity and subtle parody as ingénue Rosa Bud.

The sublime Alexandra Billings inhales Princess Puffer, while local treasures Joe Fria and Harmony Goodman hilariously devour Ceylonese siblings Neville and Helena Landless. Other standouts include Jeffrey Markle's riotous Durdles, Chairman Barnes' loopy Rev. Crisparkle and Corey Klemow's daft Bazzard.

True, this "Drood" is highly specialized, suggesting a David Lean film infiltrated by Ken Russell. Devotees may balk. Still, the rapt esprit de corps and ripe theatricality on display create a watershed event.

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'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'

Where: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 3

Price: $25

Contact: (310) 281-8337 or www.DroodinLA.com

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

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