The word is out — The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a raucous good time, even if it does exchange sincerity for camp. The production features fully committed and highly entertaining performances from most of the cast, most notably Chita Rivera as Princess Puffer and Jim Norton as the MC. Most known for letting its nightly audience indict the story’s bad guy, this revival of the 1985 production boasts energy and hilarity, focusing more on fun than on the actual mystery. The critics seem to enjoy it, especially those expecting more silliness and less sophistication.
NEW YORK TIMES
“With the explosion of social media inspiring a taste for talking back, the time seems especially ripe for the Roundabout Theater Company’s boisterous revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” the 1985 Broadway musical that allows audiences to savor the satisfactions of impersonating Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, pointing an accusatory finger at a cowering culprit….The pleasure of fingering a killer is not the only one afforded by Scott Ellis’s exuberant production, which opened on Tuesday night at Studio 54. In an era when Broadway revivals of beloved musicals can seem dispiritingly skimpy, this handsome production offers a generous feast for the eyes, trimmed in holiday cheer for an added spritz of currency….And the evening’s performers — including a bona fide Broadway grande dame, Chita Rivera; a host of plush-voiced singers; and the jovial imp Jim Norton as the evening’s M.C. — throw themselves into the winking spirit of the show….Despite its varied charms, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” remains a musical that ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its hard-working parts….The musical “Edwin Drood” at least leaves behind moments of shimmering musical pleasure to savor, long after the miscreant of the night has been booed off the stage.”
“Perhaps the best part is watching the first-rate cast have so much fun — Stephanie J. Block shows real comedic power, Jim Norton is having a ball, Chita Rivera is giggly, Gregg Edelman is just silly and Will Chase is over-acting perfectly….Scott Ellis’ direction is tight — there’s almost 20 songs, more than 20 actors and multiple identities being juggled — and yet he’s allowed pockets of genuine mirth to open for the veterans on stage to goof around….The jokes are hoary, the songs are ditties (”Off to the Races” is the best known) and the mystery not so mysterious — “You might like to add that line to your list of suspicious statements!” says one character to the audience — but the fun is infectious, even if it seems that the folks on stage might be having more of it than the paying guests….Other highlights include an opium dream beautifully realized by choreographer Warren Carlyle and Anna Louizos’ sets that includes a terrific steam-puffing train. William Ivey Long seems to have had as much fun making the lush costumes…Although “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” won Tony Awards for best musical, best book and best score in 1985, this is the first time it has returned to Broadway. The reason may be simple: In the wrong hands, it can sit awkwardly in a Broadway house — too zany, too arch. But these are the right hands: There are veterans at every turn.”
“Regardless of the accomplished cast and sparkling design and direction in Roundabout’s Broadway revival, nothing great can come of mediocre material. The show’s biggest selling point is the novelty of having the audience vote to decide the murderer’s identity at every performance. But the charms of this rollicking pastiche are otherwise intermittent….Holmes’ show scores points for ingenuity, but it often feels like being stuck for too long in front of an olde-worlde department-store window display. A vehicle running 2½ hours needs more memorable songs than these mostly interchangeable parlor ditties, and more engaging characters than this bunch, which by design, are cardboard cutouts enlivened by melodramatic flourishes. A genuinely intriguing mystery rather than a half-baked whodunit devoid of psychological complexity wouldn’t hurt either….Director Scott Ellis, set designer Anna Louizos and costumer William Ivey Long all do fine work conjuring London’s Music Hall Royale in 1895…And the cast appears to be having a ball. They double as characters within the evening’s presentation and the ensemble of second-rate resident players and guests hired to impersonate them, ranging from self-adoring stars to ambitious upstarts to shameless hams. Chief among them is the wonderful Irish actor Jim Norton…With his hoary double entendres, Norton makes an effortless master of ceremonies, as at ease with the stage business as he is with the winking innuendo of lining up companionship for single gents in the audience. Ad-libbing occasionally, he strikes the ideal jaunty tone to resuscitate this very British popular entertainment of a bygone era…But all the affectionately antiquated whimsy never quite adds up to robust entertainment.”
AM NEW YORK
“The Mystery of Edwin Drood, inspired by an unfinished Charles Dickens novel, is one of the most inventive, inspired and rousing musicals ever devised. And it is a pleasure to report that the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival is thoroughly well-cast and extremely enjoyable….As atmospherically staged by Scott Ellis, with sprightly choreography by Warren Carlyle and excellent music direction by Paul Gemignani, this production is a reminder that well-known musicals do not need to be reconstructed or darkened for their revivals. If the show is strong, have faith in it and all will fall into place.”
“This is a novelty item, tricked-up with cutesy tangents as a play-within-a-play at a provincial English music hall. Everyone in director Scott Ellis’ wonderful-looking production works very hard at jollying up the audience at the start, rallying a sing-a-long and, ultimately, conducting the voting. Then, the murderer confesses in song. The show does have some jaunty, quasi-operetta music with beautiful harmonic blends and a ravishing cast — including Chita Rivera as Princess Puffer, madam of the opium den, and Jessie Mueller as the slinky-to-her-eyebrows Helena Landless, who, with her brother (Andy Karl) brings a bit of Colonial commentary as the exotics from Ceylon. Jim Norton maneuvers around the fast-patter songs with aplomb as the emcee; Stephanie J. Block is authoritative as Drood, the young gentleman who disappears. His beloved (Betsy Wolfe) is coveted by the opium fiend-music teacher (Will Chase)….Instead of trusting the characters and the mystery to build the suspense, however, Holmes aims for the campy, tiresome and childish. To vote, one presumably cares about who does what to whom. Considering Dickens’ storytelling genius, the real mystery is why this isn’t fun.”