Preview: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

From the November 8, 2012 edition

What Charles Dickens failed to do, audiences will accomplish six times at OSU’s Thurber Theatre this week: Complete “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

In all fairness, the novelist died of a stroke in June 1870, having written only six of the projected 12 episodes of the novel, which had been published in installments. Ever since, playwrights, screenwriters and novelists, including Dickens’ own son, have tried to finish the novel.

Not until 1985 did composer and playwright Rupert Holmes – the man responsible for the 1979 earworm “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – come up with the perfect solution. Let the audience decide if Drood was murdered and if so, by whom; the identity of a mysterious stranger; and whose romance would provide a happy ending.

The Ohio State Department of Theatre and School of Music collaborate to present Holmes’ Tony and Drama Desk Award winning musical play-within-a-play. Coincidentally or not, this play, whose ending is determined by audience vote, opens right after our own national election and in the same month as the first Broadway revival is slated to open at Studio 54 in New York.

In interviews, Holmes noted that his musical bears the same relationship to Dickens’ novel as Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate” has to Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Setting “Drood” as a play performed by a London musical theatre troupe allowed Holmes to lighten the mood of Dickens’ bleak original. But then Porter didn’t have to write enough variant endings to accommodate every possible audience choice.