This warmhearted show offers slapstick, vaudevillian-type comedy and a chance to vote on whodunit

AUBURN – When Charles Dickens died before finishing “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” it certainly was never imagined that his bleak tale would eventually become popular in the form of a wildly warmhearted and unusual theatrical experience.

Now known as “Drood,” the show was brought to life in the musical theater by Rupert Holmes. Community Little Theatre will present the play beginning March 20.

“This show is huge. It’s tricky, and it is also musically phenomenal. It’s a bear, but we have done it,” said director Mitchell Clyde Thomas.

“Drood” is built around the Music Hall Royale, a hilariously loony Victorian musical troupe, that “puts on” its flamboyant rendition of an unfinished Charles Dickens mystery. The story deals with John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster who is quite madly in love with his music student, the fair Miss Rosa Bud. Miss Bud is engaged to Jasper’s nephew, young Edwin Drood, who disappears mysteriously one stormy Christmas Eve.

Has Edwin Drood been murdered? And if so, whodunit?

The giddy playfulness of this play-within-a-play draws the audience toward one of “Drood’s” most talked-about features, which allows the audience to vote on the solution as prelude to the most unusual and hilarious finale.

The principal role is the chairman, played by Dan Crawford.

“This role is what carries the humor through the whole show,” Thomas said, adding, “Dan does it excellently.”

The role of Edwin Drood is played by Emily Moore. It’s traditional for a female to play the role, which also includes her portrayal of Miss Alice Nutting in the play-within-a-play.

Thomas said Moore has a powerful voice that will thrill audiences in her CLT debut. She is a student at the University of Southern Maine and teaches a children’s theater program.

As Jasper, Greg Charette brings considerable experience and talent to a pivotal role. He played the Baron in CLT’s 1995 production of “Grand Hotel.”

Joel Biron, a graduate of Edward Little High School a few years ago, has the role of Bazzard. “He has some gorgeous solos,” Thomas said. “His voice is stronger than ever.”

Rebecca Beck, a former Miss Maine and a well-known vocal teacher and coach to pageant contestants, portrays Rosa Bud.

“Drood” is filled with lots of slapstick and vaudevillian-type comedy. Michael Litchfield has delivered some memorable comedy performances at CLT and elsewhere, and audiences will not be disappointed with his appearance as Reverend Crisparkle. It’s a potentially show-stealing part, Thomas said.

John B. Nutting, who comes to the role of Durdles with limited theatrical experience, “is the life of the party on stage,” Thomas said.

Highlights among the show’s musical numbers are “There You Are,” which is the opening, “Off to the Races” and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.”

The multi-Tony winning “Drood” opened on Broadway in 1986. Holmes wrote the music, book and lyrics and even did all of the show’s orchestrations. He wrote the 1979 hit song “Escape,” known as the pina colada song, as well as the recent Broadway show “Curtains.”

Thomas said the play involves a constant one-upmanship among the principal characters as they vie for audience votes in the unusual multichoice ending.

Others in the cast are Tracy Kapocius, Marylyn Scott, Boyd Scott, Joshua Michael Harris, Dick Rosenberg, Mary Atala Lessard, Stefanie Lynn, Jocelyn Curtis, Megan Guynes, Karen McArthur, Phil Vampatella, Carole Rosenberg, Leah Fournier, Angela Chretien, Jeff Taber, and Mariah Perry. There are many double and even triple roles.

Katie St. Pierre is producer; Vincent Ratsavong, assistant director and choreographer; Robert Caldwell, vocal musical director; and Paul G. Caron, orchestra musical director.

Kate Sicotte is stage manager; James Kramlich, assistant to the directors; Ellen Hodgkin, costumes; Don Libby, technical director; Richard Martin and Don Malpass, lighting; Scott Powers, sound designer; Heidi and Riley McCurdy, properties; Dick Rosenberg, set design; Suzi Fourness, Ellen Hodgkin and Kate Sicotte, set decor; and Rachel Morin, publicity.

Thomas, who is known for many years of working with young people in theater directed CLT’s productions of “Wizard of Oz,” CLT’s 60th Anniversary Revue, “Alice in Wonderland,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “A Christmas Carol: The Musical.” This marks a rare show for him in which there are no children.

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