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In an opium
den-turned-theater, far from the fashionable parts of London,
a rag-tag ensemble of Victorian actors stage their own adaptation of the late
Charles Dickens' unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And
need your help to figure out what the ending might be. Won't you join
production of the Tony-Award-Winning Broadway hit features
a never-before-heard song, and lots of audience interaction.
Come a little early and get to know the ensemble!
Chariman Barnes, Brandon Clark, Kathi Copeland, Joe Fria,
Harmony Goodman, Rachel Greene, Mary Guilliams, Ryan Hartman,
Corey Klemow, Jeffrey Markle, Lynn Odell, Stephen Simon, Vanessa Smith,
Mary Sutherland, Tim Thorn, Natalie Taylor, Matthew Tyler, Brian Wallis
and Alexandra Billings as "Princess Puffer"
Director - Bill Newlin
Choreographer - John Pennington
Set Designer - Joel Daavid
Lighting Designer - Edward Marks
Costume Designer - Susanne Klein
Sound Designer - Adam Phalen
Makeup Designer - Heather Hopkins
Producing Consultant for Sacred Fools - Jenelle Riley
Producer - Sondra Mayer
Marketing/Producer - Peter J. Kuo
Stage Manager/Producer - Kristina Sepulveda
Press Representative - Ken Werther Publicity
Associate Producer - Cindy Sakamoto
Assistant Director - Elissa Weinzimmer
Second Assistant Director - Jaime Robledo
Assistant Producers - Racheal Caswell & Hillary Naishtat
Casting Director - C. Josephine Hagerty
Graphic Designer - Chris Buñag
Rupert Holmes' achievement in his musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" is little short of astonishing, crafting the book, music and lyrics with quick-witted mastery. Not content to merely present the novel, he ambitiously adds another level of complexity by making the story a production by a British music hall, complete with cast infighting and flirtations. And because Dickens died before completing his novel, Holmes provides not only an ending but multiple endings, decided by audience vote, a dizzying level of self-reflexivity that ultimately highlights the primal power of communal storytelling. It's a celebration of theater, and the new production at Sacred Fools, under Douglas Clayton's outstanding direction, is a resounding success.
Arrogant young Edwin Drood (Rachel Greene) is about to leave Victorian England for India, not to make his fortune, but in his narcissistic opinion, to make theirs. This doesn't endear him to recent sibling immigrants from Ceylon, Neville (Joe Fria) and Helena Landless (Harmony Goodman), however much their patron, the Reverend Crisparkle (Chairman Barnes), attempts to make amends.
Drood intends to marry Rosa Bud (Natalie Taylor) before he leaves the country, much to the dismay of her music teacher, John Jasper (Matthew Tyler). Jasper is obsessed with young Rosa, and is falling apart to the extent that he frequents the opium den of Princess Puffer (Alexandra Billings). Suffice it to say that there is no lack of foul play suspects when Drood disappears one dark night.
Tyler is superb as the suspicious Jasper, playing the character's menace and despair simultaneously, and his singing is strong. Taylor is the very picture of Victorian beauty as Rosa, quite fine as the distressed ingenue, and her operatic voice is used to stunning effect in "Moonfall." Greene makes Drood a suitable victim, and is rudely amusing as the annoyed actress playing the role.
Fria and Goodman are wonderfully over-the-top as mysterious siblings Neville and Helena, getting the maximum comic impact from every line or dramatically raised eyebrow.
Barnes brings believable warmth to his perf as Crisparkle, and Jeffrey Markle is delightful as the drunken Durdles. Billings is comedic gold as Puffer, raunchily hilarious and blessed with the voice of a Broadway belter, which is used to bravura effect in "The Wages of Sin." Finally, Tim Thorn steals the show as the master of ceremonies, a perf that expertly combines sly wit, skill, charisma and pure showmanship.
Clayton's direction shows itself in the excellence of the piece as a whole, from the detailed performances to the fluid staging of a huge cast in a small area, and he demonstrates definitively that this show actually benefits from playing in a more intimate environment.
John Pennington's choreography is constantly fresh and surprising, and Bill Newlin's music direction is energetically exceptional. Joel Daavid's detailed music hall set is an extraordinarily clever use of the theatrical space, and Edward Marks' impressionistic lighting memorably uses deep reds and blues to create vistas of emotion.
Suzanne Klein's vivid array of lush costumes serve the show brilliantly, and Heather Hopkins' makeup adds measurably to this fantastic production.
Mystery of Edwin Drood'
brings the music hall to life Sacred Fools revives the story with Victorian frills.
That the audience-input aspect of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" remains
giddy fun is no surprise. Rupert Holmes' 1986 Tony-winning adaptation
of Charles Dickens' unfinished 1870 novel has an unbeatable asset in
our deciding its outcome.
What is astounding about the benchmark Sacred Fools revival is its
ribald immersion in the Victorian music hall ethos. This registers at
first sight of designer Joel Daavid's magnificent, venue-spanning set.
And Edward Marks' superb lighting plot lacks only footlights in its
Clad in Suzanne Klein's period costumes, the players spontaneously
interact with us until Brandon Clark's Mr. Throttle bangs his stick to
start the show. Tim Thorn enters as arch Chairman Cartwright. Music
director Bill Newlin's pert band opens "There You Are," as the Music
Hall Royale erupts in John Pennington's witty choreography.
Though agreeable, Holmes' score is stylistically diffuse. For all its
ingenuity, his overstuffed libretto can feel arbitrary. Yet under
Douglas Clayton's inspired direction, the environmental approach
emphasizes "Drood's" strengths and shrinks its weaknesses, aided by a
Thorn's nimble interlocutor recalls accounts of Gilbert and Sullivan
comic George Grossmith. As the title hero and the "male impersonator"
who portrays him, Rachel Greene is fearless, even with an underplayed
Act 2 snit. Matthew Tyler's rapid vibrato and pealing delivery are
perfect for sinister John Jasper. Natalie Taylor blends vocal purity
and subtle parody as ingénue Rosa Bud.
The sublime Alexandra Billings inhales Princess Puffer, while local
treasures Joe Fria and Harmony Goodman hilariously devour Ceylonese
siblings Neville and Helena Landless. Other standouts include Jeffrey
Markle's riotous Durdles, Chairman Barnes' loopy Rev. Crisparkle and
Corey Klemow's daft Bazzard.
True, this "Drood" is highly specialized, suggesting a David Lean film
infiltrated by Ken Russell. Devotees may balk. Still, the rapt esprit
de corps and ripe theatricality on display create a watershed event.
remember the Weather Girls' big disco hit entitled It’s Raining Men?
Well, these days in SoCal, it’s raining Droods, with productions of
the Rupert Holmes Broadway smash opened or opening just about
everywhere. The one that’s captured the most attention and already
inspired a bunch of deserved raves is the one currently wowing
audiences at Sacred Fools. In the words of The Weather Girls,
Director Douglas Clayton and his sensational cast, musicians,
choreographer, and design team have scaled down the Broadway sized
show to fit Sacred Fools’ intimate space with impressive results,
although in fact, rather than fitting the space, it would be more
accurate to say that they fill it…to the brim! Master scenic designer
Joel Daavid has literally surrounded the audience with his Chinese
influenced set, which includes a pair of box seats for audience
members, hanging lanterns, and curtained private sleeping berths, like
on a train. Speaking of surrounding the audience, when the entire
ensemble joins to sing one of Holmes’ rousing choruses, audience
members experience live surround sound as never before. No matter
where you sit, someone is sure to be singing beside you and behind
Anyone seeing Drood for the first time will understand in an instant
why it became a long running Broadway hit, which has attracted
countless Droodheads, who seek out any Drood production, anywhere.
There’s the catchy score, which blends Broadway and the British music
hall. There are the wonderfully Dickensian characters (this is after
all Charles Dickens’ last (unfinished) work). There’s the knowing
breaking of the third wall, as actors on stage applaud each other’s
entrances, interact with the audience, step in and out of character,
and decide suddenly to depart from the Dickens tale and break into a
rousing chorus of Off to the Races, a song which has absolutely
nothing to do with the Mystery of Edwin Drood. (At one point, a
character tells us, “I’m sure we’ll have at least one reprise of this
before we’re through,” and we do.) Finally, there’s the participation
by the audience, who are not only invited to join in the singing from
time to time, but also must make three major plot decisions, the
results of which lead to an apparent 120 possible versions of the
show. (Any one of a half-dozen cast members may end up singing Out on
a Limerick, depending on who is voted the “winner” by the audience.
The reprise of Perfect Strangers may be sung by a dozen or more
possible duos. Finally, there are seven different Murderer’s
Confessions, depending on whom the audience chooses.)
Though not all of the cast possess the vocal skills which distinguish
the best of them, this is a superbly talented (and raucous) ensemble.
They’re all clearly having a ball on stage, and their enthusiasm is
infectious. Standouts include (in alphabetical order) Chairman Barnes
as a delightful Crisparkle, Joe Fria stealing scenes right and left as
a bug-eyed Neville Landless, Harmony Goodman as a serpentine Helena
with silent movie poses, Rachel Greene, a beautiful Brit with West End
credits and a gorgeous voice to match, Corey Klemow as a supremely
silly Buzzard, Jeffrey Markle staggering this way and that as the
drunken Durdles, Tim Thorn in a truly commanding performance as the
Chairman of a thousand puns, Natalie Taylor as an angelically voiced
Rosa Budd, and handsome Matthew Tyler channeling his inner cad as
villainous John Jasper. (Note: It’s a joy to hear Taylor’s soprano and
Greene’s alto blend in such rich harmonies when singing Perfect
Strangers.) Finally, this weekend’s Princess Puffer is the lovely and
very talented Lynn Odell, who rather than “imitate the original,”
makes the role wholly her own in a funny (she’s great with the double
entendres) and touching (e.g. her reconciliation with Rosa)
Kudos to director Clayton for his inventive staging, such as Drood and
Jasper’s escalating efforts to upstage each other in Two Kinsman.
There’s a great opium trip sequence, including Chinese dragon and
masked players, all bathed in an eerie green light. Actors become part
of the set design, holding street lamps, portraits, and garden
flowers. At one moment, a mini-chandelier descends, a la Phantom in
miniature; at another, the Chairman is suddenly revealed to be
kanoodling with a female cast member behind a curtained berth. I’m
told Clayton has been getting ready for this production for years, and
Music director Bill Newlin’s five-piece band sounds great, and you
won’t see a bigger or better bunch of Dickensian costumes on an
intimate theater stage than Suzanne Klein’s for this production.
There’s not much room left on the stage for dancing when everybody’s
there, but choreographer John Pennington has managed to fit in some
high stepping numbers. Edward Marks’ lighting is wonderfully
mood-setting, from the moonlight which bathes Taylor as she sings
Moonfall, to the red-light-district crimson which adds a sinister
quality to Princess Puffer’s den of iniquity.
My LAStageScene guest was musical theater buff Michael Landman-Karny,
who told me after the performance, “I have ‘saved myself’ to make my
first Drood production a memorable one—and I could not imagine a
better production—it was truly superb...” I concur wholeheartedly.
fantastic cast brings charming life to a fun and unique score. Best
production I've seen of a pretty tricky show. Never a dull moment." -Mara H., Music Connection Magazine
"In your face hilarious! Great vocals, dry wit, and deadly funny." -Aaron S., Sunrise West Productions
"The show was very entertaining, all the actors were superb, the set was
fantastic and the direction was outstanding. Don't miss this wonderful
show where everything comes together to create a wonderful experience!
Seeing it more than once is great fun, because of the different
endings." – Mary C.
"I've seen DROOD at Sacred Fools THREE TIMES because it makes me laugh
so hard! I'm going back with family members this weekend! I usually hate
going to see theatre because I've seen so many mediocre shows. The cast
is amazing and gets the style, the set is magnificent, and the direction
superb. DROOD is THE show to see this year!" -Heather C.
"The characters of Edwin Drood exert their pull as soon as you take your
seat. By the time the house lights dim, you are a captive and the next
two hours pass quickly in laughter and fascination." -Jose F.
"A perfect balance of silly humor and truly touching moments! Alexandra
[Billings] as Puffer is absolutely perfect. I have never seen ANY one in
ANY production, including Cleo Laine [on Broadway], be better in the
role." -T. Stephan
"I love love LOVE the pre-show. Having the actors mingle with the
audience definitely gave the music hall atmosphere and gave the audience
a glimpse of the structure of the show." -Marcus G.
"Songs, laughs, and lots of cleavage...This show has everything!" -D. Williams
"We loved it! We sat right on the stage at one of the 3-4 little
cocktail tables and definitely felt as if the play was going on all
around us. The theater is so intimate that there isn't a bad seat to be
found. The singing was wonderful (Rose Bud, Jasper, ensemble), the
mayor/narrator and Neville were exceptional, particularly with their
facial expressions. We are planning on returning, this time with the
friends who originally weren't so interested (or adventurous)." -Denise H.
"This fantastic show is the best deal in town! I took my 14 year old son
to the show for his birthday and we had a blast. (It's kind of racy, so
I definitely wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than that...)
Everything about the show was top rate - the actors, the music, the fun!
By the way, there's a 5-piece band who enhanced the performance
tremendously- very unusual and wonderful for a small theatre. There are
some opportunities for the audience to interact, and we had a good time
with that as well. We both highly recommend it to anyone who loves
theatre." -Liz K.
"I went in expecting to be entertained. Sacred Fools productions
have never disappointed me. What I didn't expect was to have
belly-laughed, held intensely fascinating conversations with very
engaging characters, and watched two non-theatrical friends grinningly
and energetically hoof it through a dance lesson onstage... all
"pre-curtain." And once the show started, I didn't expect to laugh
myself to rolling tears twice, experience mouth-gaping, dazzled
appreciation of a duet, and feel that I'd somehow been part of the most
impressively connected ensemble work I've ever seen in L.A. I've
been enjoying theatre for decades. This time, I was flabbergastedly entertained." -L. Moore
Venerable Musicals Drood
and Hair Receive Local Revivals
Clayton & Alexandra Billings
SOMETIMES IT IS JUST AS EXCITING
to see a different view of a
familiar play or musical as is the discovery
of a new and vibrant theatrical work.
Revivals offer directors and actors an
opportunity to rethink and often find radically new
tactics to breathe fresh life into favorite scripts.
When speaking to directors of revivals, there is
almost always an air of excitement because the
director's concept holds as much sway as that of
the playwright or composer, whose work on the
show is usually finished.
One such director is Douglas
Clayton, who lives successfully in both the artistic and
production-administration ends of theatre (he is the newly appointed
Member Services Manager of LA Stage Alliance). But it is his directing
that fills him with the most glee; currently he is helming a revival of
The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Drood was a 1986 Broadway hit and
five-time Tony Award winner,
including two for composer/writer Rupert
Holmes. Clayton speaks euphorically about his plans for
the revival, especially about his coup of receiving
permission to add a song that had been stricken from
the original show. The number, "An English
Music Hall," is the perfect tool for Clayton's
reimagining of the show. He plans to place the audience
within the ambiance of the Music Hall as actors mingle with the crowd.
His concept is perfectly in tune with
the style of Sacred Fools, so he is extremely happy to be creating the show with
that company. He explains, "Sacred Fools is ideal for my idea. Their space
can be transformed into an opium den that has been refurbished into a music
hall. Also there is always a party atmosphere at Fools. They regularly do
late-night shows that have a lot of audience interaction–-and their actors'
performance styles are something I wanted for the show.
"It has so many
different elements to it. First of all it's Dickens so
you have these huge, strong characters, not
quite cartoons but definitely larger than life people. We
need actors who are not afraid to make bold
choices. Actors will be in the seats with the audience at all
times so I needed performers who are unafraid of
chatting and entertaining in an improvised setting.
They also have to grasp the correct level of
bawdiness. It is a Dickens party, which means
basically PG-13. There is a lot of discussion of
prostitution and opium smoking and that sort of thing
but it is not graphic, not disgusting."
But can the Sacred
Fools sing? Clayton quickly responds,
"One of the interesting things about Drood is that it has a very
eclectic mix of musical styles;
Rupert's whole idea of the show was to be an homage
to the music hall. Some of the roles are much
more about performance and character and
communicating to the audience rather than
incredible singing. About four roles require ridiculously
In addition to the
fortune of having Holmes' input with the added
song and a cast of wild actors, Clayton
couldn't be happier about casting the key role of
Princess Puffer which needs an extremely special
actress. Clayton was given the suggestion of
Alexandra Billings. He soon learned she was a popular
transgendered actress/cabaret artist. "I
called her manager. As it turned out it was the first show
she'd ever seen on Broadway and it was a huge
life-changing thing for her." She quickly responded
she would love to do the show.
wrinkle in this business of revivals: Drood has not played in
Southern California since
1994; now suddenly there are four other planned nearby
productions. Rather than be concerned, Clayton
has decided to embrace the idea and has been in
contact with the other venues to do some