Audience twist

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

“Does anyone know how we’re going to end this show?”

“Does anyone know how we’re going to end this show?”

Photo courtesy of Davis Shakespeare Festival

The Mystery of Edwin Drood; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (alternating with Twelfth Night); $15-$25. Veterans Memorial Theatre, 203 East 14th Street in Davis; Through August 2.

Rated 4.0

Charles Dickens died in 1870, leaving his novel-in-progress The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished. So when songwriter Rupert Holmes—known for his 1979 hit “Escape (the Piña Colada Song)”—wrote a 1985 Broadway musical based on Drood, Holmes adopted a clever device. At each performance, the audience gets the opportunity in the second act to pick an ending they’d like to see. There are multiple possible outcomes and the cast mingles with the audience, collecting votes.

The musical Drood is also a play-within-a-play. The audience sees a cast of English music hall performers staging a Victorian-era production drawing on Dickens. In this Davis Shakespeare Festival production, veteran pro Matt K. Miller is delightful as the talkative, convivial Chairman—introducing each performer, and telling jokes between scenes. And we meet a variety of oddball Dickens characters (with catchy Dickens names): Susanna Risser dresses as a young man and plays Edwin Drood (a tip of the hat to the British “panto” style). Kristi Webb plays Drood’s pretty girlfriend, Rosa Bud, who is also the object of the affections of the devious music teacher and opium addict John Jasper (played by local pro Matt Edwards, relishing the role). Lovely Martine Fleurisma, visiting from New York, plays the dubious Princess Puffer, who runs the opium den. Phil Ryder plays Durdles, a meandering drunk.

Director Gia Battista runs her cast through lots of physical comedy as well as song-and-dance numbers. It’s a complex, entertaining show, with elaborate costumes and a large pit band. Incidentally, the original Broadway Drood picked up multiple Tony Awards in 1985 (including Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical), and there was a Broadway revival in 2012. Drood was staged by Sacramento’s Music Circus in 1988. This Davis Shakespeare mounting, with two Actors’ Equity Association actors, is the first notable local production in 25-plus years.