What better Christmas fare than a slice of delicious ham? The Roundabout serves just that in Scott Ellis’s revival of Rupert Holmes’s marvelous diversion The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The unpretentious conceit of the evening transports us to 1895 to watch English thespians perform a “musicale with dramatic interludes” inspired by Charles Dickens’s 1870 novel, about the possible murder of a young gentleman; since Dickens died before finishing it, the audience votes each night on how the loose strands get tied up. This lovely bit of gimmickry lets Holmes draw cleverly on classic English music-hall and pantomime traditions, and the variability of the ending encourages the performers to pad their roles by mugging vividly for crowd approval.
Gussied up in William Ivey Long’s splendid costumes, the cast disports itself with an infectious sense of fun. Twinkling star Jim Norton leads the merriment as the Chairman; Stephanie J. Block brings a sterling voice to the rather thankless title part, a panto pants role. Will Chase (as a lustful opium addict) and Betsy Wolfe (as his chaste student) do commendable work as well, and if Chita Rivera seems out of her element as a London dope peddler, well, she’s Chita Rivera and all is forgiven. But it’s the smaller roles that really let the actors shine: Gregg Edelman as the affable Reverend Crisparkle, Robert Creighton as the tottering Durdles, Peter Benson as the eager Bazzard, Andy Karl as the seething Neville and especially Jessie Mueller as the exotic Helena. At the end of the show, you may find yourself eager to return to their spirited company, to see how the story ends next.—Adam Feldman
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