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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gimmicky 'Drood' mystifies audience

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

From left, Guy Merola, Lisa Konove and Suzanne Green in Diamond Head Theatre's "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," by Charles Dickens.

Brad Goda

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Diamond Head Theatre

8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. April 1 and 8, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 9

$12-$42, with discounts for students, those 62 and older and military.


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What happened to "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" in its current revival at Diamond Head Theatre is a bit of a mystery in itself.

The 1985 Broadway show by Rupert Holmes won several Tony awards, including one for best musical. Based on an unfinished Charles Dickens novel, the production lets the audience vote to determine one of 13 possible endings.

It may be that director/choreographer Greg Zane spent most of his energy on the dances, which are competent although not remarkably big or showy and failed to notice that most of the dialogue and lyrics are unintelligible.

The production gets good support from Judy Yoshioka's small orchestra and the singers wear body microphones, but the audience spends much of the long first act trying to figure out what's happening behind the babble of British accents. And when an audience has to work too hard just to puzzle out what it's hearing, it tends to lose interest.

Long before the audience elects the show's ending, "Drood" establishes itself as an excessively gimmicky play. Dickens' basic story is told within the context of a Victorian music hall, with musical olios, chorus girls in their scanties, and a buffoon of a master of ceremonies.

Zane also sends the cast out to chat up the audience before the show and during intermission. The hope is that the audience becomes a participant in the production by booing, cheering and turning mildly rowdy.

The audience at least at the final dress rehearsal before opening night wasn't getting into the act. The sluggish response gave Dennis Proulx in the MC role an opportunity to get off some delightful comments that play like they might not have been part of the script.

"I judge by the level of your applause that you're saving your energy for later in the show," and "Now that the house lights have come up, I see what I've been having to contend with."

Up until then, the audience has been contending with cockney accents that would fail to make the grade in "My Fair Lady," some variants of Ceylonese English, and lyrics lost amid ruffles and false hair all of it delivered with the false bravura of carnival hucksters.

This makes it nearly impossible to get into the story of Edwin Drood, a young gentleman who disappears under strange circumstances and leaves behind a slate of suspects. It also doesn't help that the role is played by a Victorian actress known for her male impersonations.

While the basic style of the production fails to work, Proulx' asides are minor gems, Lisa Konove as Princess Puffer is successful at being understood while singing, and Guy Merola as Drood's jealous uncle Jasper hits some worthy musical notes.

Costumes and sets offer plenty to look at, but while the songs seem suited to the moment, only "Off to the Races" the Act One finale stands a chance at lasting past the curtain call.

Other productions of "Drood" might find the right mix of gimmickry and Victorian oddity to succeed, but at Diamond Head Theatre it simply gets in the way.