A Bit Of British Mystery

March 17, 1995|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

Who killed young Edwin Drood?

Was it Rosa Bud, his beautiful bride-to-be who might not be as innocent as she appears?

Was it John Jasper, Edwin's uncle who is himself smitten with Rosa and has been running off on mysterious visits to London?

How about Neville Landless, the hot-blooded aristocrat who seems revulsed by Edwin's very presence?

Or maybe it was Landless' sister Helena, whose sinister felinity definitely bodes ill for any fellow dumb enough to get in her way.

The Rev. Crisparkle perhaps? Or Princess Puffer?

If you should happen to meet members of the Children's Theatre of Annapolis cast of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," the musical version of the Charles Dickens whodunit, don't bother asking them who did Edwin in. They won't know either.

They won't know because Dickens never got around to solving the riddle, for he died before he could complete the novel. And the musical "Edwin Drood," which did brisk business on Broadway a few years back, capitalizes on this lack of resolution by allowing you the viewer to complete the play by voting for your favorite culprit. Talk about audience participation!

Mastery of several potential endings isn't the only hurdle faced by a "Drood" cast. The score is knotty indeed; intensely chromatic, rhythmically complex, and full of nasty harmonies and tough register shifts.

"Drood" is very much a period piece, so quirky characters and believable British accents must be sustained if things are to work out satisfactorily.

I think you'll be amazed at the level of musical talent the senior CTA kids bring to the piece.

True, they can't quite hit everything in sight -- harmonies in "A British Subject" and elsewhere were a bit messy last Friday night -- but the level of overall polish had me scratching my head more than once. Yes, I told myself, these are 15- and 16-year-old performers.

Brock Ballard is a fine young baritone who, as the bizarre John Jasper, made his way through some exceptionally difficult solos.

Abby Mott as ingenue Rosa Bud, Kelly Lidz as the hilarious Princess Puffer and the ever-reliable Karen Zucco, who cross-dressed her way into the title role, were particularly striking among the female vocalists.

Abby, a junior at Arundel High, is a newcomer to CTA. She's a charmer; here's hoping she sticks around.

There is also some excellent acting in the production.

English accents are clipped and crisp, and the goofier characters are beautifully drawn, especially the marvelous Justin Brill as the master of ceremonies, Chris Dahl as the nebbishy Bazzard, who won't let go of the show once he finally gets to steal it, and Chris Cox who is a riot as Crisparkle, the bumbling vicar.

Travis Jennings also cuts a nice imperious figure as the temperamental Neville Landless.

Quibbles? Well, a few bits of on-stage chemistry failed to fizz. It's never really clear, for example, why Edwin engenders such a heated reaction from young Neville.

And as much as I loved watching Jessica Crouse claw and hiss with cat-like intensity, I wasn't quite sure where that was all going once she began interacting with the other characters. She didn't seem that catty in conversation.

The ensemble is adorable, especially in the audience scenes that open and close the show.

A closing tip of the cap to Arundel High School, which provided CTA with so many members of this talented "Drood" cast. Thespis, it would seem, is well-honored in Odenton.

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" is playing at the Pascal Theater at Anne Arundel Community College at 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $6. Information: 757-ACT1.

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