The Mystery of Edwin Drood
at Freedom High School

Reviewed on May 3, 2014

Herndon High School
Washington Post - Loudoun
Herndon High School
Washington Post - Loudoun
Langley High School
Woodbridge Senior High School - Loudoun

Meghan Henry
Herndon High School

Submitted for publication to Washington Post - Loudoun

It's the classic mystery tale: a character goes missing, and there are a list of suspects with motives and suspicious stories. Except – there are a variance of possible endings; and the audience gets to choose which ending they want. It's the 1840's version of Clue played out by a rowdy, flashy group of actors in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, put on by Freedom High School.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was first written by Charles Dickens in the 1870's. He died before the end of the book was written, and so the mystery remains unsolved. Over the years, various critics have debated over how this mystery was supposed to end. It was put into a musical format by Rupert Holmes, and is the first Broadway musical with multiple endings. The endings are determined by audience vote.

Act I was mostly centered on the original storyline Dickens wrote for Drood, with comic relief provided by the troupe of actors from "Music Hall Royale". These roles were more serious, as reflected by the concentration of the actors and the lighting of each scene. Act II was more the comedic end of the play. The roles mostly concentrated on the attention-seeking Royale actors, creating laughs and a lighter atmosphere before revealing the audience-choice ending for the night.

Playing a character of a different gender is a challenge that most actors don't experience. Shelly Walsh embraced the character of Drood and embodied the proud masculinity that the character demanded of the stage. Her unique acting skills and powerful voice showed why she was the best contender for Drood, even if she wasn't male. Her male counterpart, Jake Barber also showed off his dynamic skills by taking on the role of the crazy, bipolar uncle, John Jasper. His deranged laugh sent chills running through the audience as he examined his crazed, creepy love for Rosa Bud.

What good is a play without comic relief? Troupe actors Deirdre Peregrine (Corinne MacLean), Durdles (Nate McGraw) and Angela Prysock (Maddison Raba) embodied the stereotypes of performers in the 1800's with facial expressions, improv, and attention-seeking flourishes. Phillip Bax (Matt Blumen) was the underdog that was secretly adored by the audience. His longing for the spotlight exhibited the thoughts of every minor actor who wished for just a little more time on stage. The Chairman (Hershel Holiday) elicited the most laughs for his spot-on improvisation mixed with the comedic lines given to him by the script. It was hard to tell where the lines stopped and the improvisation began. Each actor harnessed these roles and created a spectacle of entertainment for the audience.

The technical aspects of the show added another dimension to the musical. The moon created by the lights in Moonfall, one of the creepy scenes between Jasper and Rosa Budd, created an eerie, ethereal atmosphere between the characters. The combination of white, red, and blue lights also depicted changes in the weather, time of day, and intensity of the scenes. The dance ensemble was energetic and the orchestra played well under the vocalists during each piece.

Who was the murderer in the end? Only the audience knows, for they are the ones to choose! The Mystery of Edwin Drood was an entertaining musical played well by the comic, energetic actors of Freedom High School.

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Sophie Bengzon
Herndon High School

Submitted for publication to Washington Post - Loudoun

Charles Dickens is one of the greatest authors of all time, and has written countless novels that have changed the world of literature as we know it. Regretfully, he passed away before finishing his last work. The world of the stage, however, is innovative, and the unfinished novel became a do-it-yourself mystery, where the audience chooses the ending. A musical-within-a-musical set in the English 1840s, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a hilarious, kitschy ball of mystery that never stopped rolling.

Freedom High School's production of this hilarious play was bursting with energy even before the play started. Choreography and stage movement were full of life, and even the most somber of scenes were portrayed with movement and energy. The company stayed in character from opening curtain to final bows. Cast members roamed the aisles pre-show, interacting with the audience and getting crowd energy up with whoops and hollers galore. Audience interaction was constantly loud and boisterous and full of bold movements and facials, lending an air of fun chaos to the entire production.
Edwin Drood, played by Shelly Walsh, practically demanded the eyes of the audience to follow her intense stage presence and forthright mannerisms. Even when not a feature of the scene, Walsh commanded attention without taking away from the subject at hand: an impressive feat, especially as she was playing a woman playing a man. Additionally, Walsh's beautiful vocals had a resounding tone and clarity that put meaning into every note she sang.

Jake Barber portrayed madman Jasper perfectly with his crazy facials and intense body language. Barber as well had some of the strongest vocals of the night, even when rolling around on the floor as his character lost all sense of sanity. His chemistry with Rosa, played by Corinne MacLean, was completely horrifying in the best way possible. Speaking of, MacLean was the ideal English rose as Rosa Bud as well as riotous "actress" Deirdre Peregrine. MacLean truly came to life in the second act as she contrasted a sweet, innocent Rosa persona with her brazen, over-the-top Deirdre. The pinnacle of her performance came when it was revealed that the audience had chosen Rosa as the killer for that night, and MacLean played a sweet maiden turned crazy flawlessly.

The intensity of the murderous plot was wonderfully tempered at the end of the show by an audience pairing of sassy opium den owner Princess Puffer (Maddison Raba) and flirty, obnoxious graveyard digger Durdles (Nate McGraw). Despite only having a reprise together, Raba and McGraw's chemistry was undeniably hilarious and had the audience in absolute fits. The two character personalities were perfectly suited for each other, and Raba and McGraw pulled the number off scandalously well. It was a wonderful ending to an unfinished work, and gave the audience a small sense of pride as they were able to pat themselves on the back for a job well done in the pairing. All in all, it was remarkably fun to be able to have a choice in saying Who Killed Edwin Drood!

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Hayley Wenk
Langley High School

Submitted for publication to

Having an author die before completing a story may seem like a good way to kill the story too. But not for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the cast of Freedom High School certainly didn't let the unfinished tale faze them, rather, they carried the tale with stellar comedy.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, originally on Broadway as just Drood, is based on the unfinished Dickens novel. The musical features a unique play-within-a-play structure, with the cast members all playing different members of the fictitious Music Hall Royale, in addition to their characters in the story of Drood. Young Edwin Drood is engaged to the fair Rosa Budd, but Drood's uncle John Jasper harbors secret desires for his nephew's betrothed. Jasper, an opium addict, constantly imagines killing Drood to have Rosa. But, the fiery Neville Landless, and his twin Helena also are at odds with Drood. After a tense Christmas party, Drood disappears—and that is when the audience takes hold of the tale.

The cast never missed a beat, the energy bounced around them as they sang and joked with the audience, constantly pulling laughs and cheers. Each actor played a delightful dichotomy, switching between the over-the-top, rowdy actors, and the serious, dramatic characters of Drood's tale.

In the title role of Edwin Drood and the player Alice Nutter, Shelly Walsh commanded the stage, whether swaggering with her hands tucked in her pockets as Drood, or dramatically flourishing her hands and taking just a few more bows. Walsh was also a vocal powerhouse, highlighted in her duet "Two Kinsman" with John Jasper, played by Jake Barber. The Jekyll and Hyde-esque nature of the crazed Jasper was evident, as Barber laughed manically and crawled in a half crouch, standing just a little too close to the object of his affections, Rosa Budd (Corinne MacLean). MacLean's character exploded with vivacity, flipping between the innocent Rosa, and the promiscuous Deirdre Peregrine.

The story was driven by the Chairman of the theatre (Hershel Holiday), who functioned like a narrator, constantly trying for a laugh with hilariously bad puns. The hot-blooded Neville Landless (Matt Stewart) was an enigmatic joy, predatorily strutting and raising one eyebrow in a suspicious, and highly comedic, manner. Matched in snide glances and melodic accent was Neville's twin Helena, played by Meena Knowles. The cockney, crude, and coarse Durdles (Nate McGraw) sported a crooked grin as he sang a hilarious reprise of "Moonfall" with the equally audacious Princess Puffer (Maddison Raba).

The pit orchestra was an excellent complement to the vocalists, keeping pace with the craziness of the musical. Rachel Holcomb's lighting design matched the set, showcasing everywhere from the house of a choirmaster on Christmas Eve, to a graveyard in the dead of night, to an opium den that transformed into a hazy dream state. The sound crew had the challenge of juggling the music and the vocalists, and despite a few glitches, they performed admirably.

In a stunning show, Freedom High School transformed into the Music Hall Royale, creating two worlds with equal aplomb, one a paragon of drama, the other of comedy.

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Christina Toval
Woodbridge Senior High School

Submitted for publication to - Loudoun

Here's a murder mystery that has it all- love triangles, psychopathic schizophrenics, opium dens and foreigners with indescribable accents. Freedom High School presents The Mystery of Edwin Drood- a story where the audience's input is as vital as the lead characters themselves.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was based off of an unfinished book by Charles Dickens in the late 19th century of England. Its story was adapted by Rupert Holmes who wrote its book, score, and lyrics. The story is a play within a play. The cast is playing an actor who is playing another character within the plotline. This musical was the first on Broadway to have multiple story directions and ending based upon the audience vote. So the audience in the determining factor in what really is the mystery of Edwin Drood.

In song like "There You Are" and "Off to the Races", the cast's energy and liveliness reached amazing heights. Not only did they entreat the audience with their enthusiasm, but they thoroughly entertained the audience with their hilarious comedic timing during moments of improvisation as well. The character they depicted in the storyline was an entertainingly farcical opposite to their "diva" acting troupe character.

Edwin Drood/ Alice Nutting (Shelly Walsh) developed a show stopping character. Her voice was so melodic and crystal clear that it serenaded the audience. Her acting was just as entrancing as her voice. When she played Drood, she displayed a completely believable masculinity which was the laughable antithesis to the sassy, high maintenance Alice Nutting. John Jasper/ Clive Paget (Jake Barber) succeeded in creeping out the audience with his bipolar/ schizophrenic character that had an unhealthy obsession with Rosa Budd. Despite giving the audience a major chill, his vocals were impeccable and finely tuned. The Chairman/ William Cartwright (Hershel Holiday) filled his role with a level of amusement that kept the show rolling, making it impossible to have a lull in the show.

The supporting cast was a force to be reckoned with, and had attention grabbing stage presence. This included characters like Rosa Budd/Deirdre Peregrine (Corienne MacLean), Durdles/ Nick Cricker (Nate McGraw), Princess Puffer/ Angela Prysock (Maddison Raba), and Buzzard/ Phillip Bax (Matt Blumen). When Maclean portrayed Deirdre Peregrine, her ludicrous physicality had the audience rolling out of their seats with tears in their eyes. Raba's physicality was spot on throughout the show. She didn't have to speak to grab the audience's attention. Raba and McGraw matched each other's ridiculously funny characterization in the song "Perfect Strangers". McGraw showed a stellar, stand alone character as well as Blumen.

Lighting Designer Rachel Holcomb did an excellent job of choosing the best scenes for mood lighting and made optimal use of moon gobos, and special effects lighting. However, some lighting shifts were premature creating a few areas of uneven light. There were also other sound issues, but the tech crew persevered through all their problems enabling seamless scene shifts. Makeup and costumes, for the most part, were time period appropriate and nice to look at.

So before you go "off to the races" make sure you stop by at Freedom High School's The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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