The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Artistic works are never the product of a single perspective. Even when the expression is extremely personal, the act of sharing or even revisiting it oneself, is a means of introducing a new point of view. 

There is something about art which is created in the moments in which it is received. This ‘something’ is ultimately crucial, if not to all artistic works, then certainly to works of performance art. In the case of musical theatre specifically, many people in many different roles contribute to the final, temporary image. 

Initially, the story is crafted by writers and composers. Then, after passing through the rehearsal process, through countless cold and close reads, it reaches the stage. While actors, musicians, lighting directors, sound editors, and set designers build a visual world, behind the back curtain stage managers direct their own mirrored production.

Finally, the work of all of these hours and all of these hands is delivered to the audience, who in viewing it, finish that iteration of the project. 

This is why, in reviewing the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, we chose to include three distinct perspectives of this process. These three reviews represent three of the many, equally crucial points of view which contributed to this final product. 

– Alyssa Tirrel ‘22, Arts and Culture Editor 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, now running in the Duke Family Perfmormance Hall. Photographs by John Crawford ‘20.

Clara Hare-Grogg ‘19

Musician

As a violinist in the pit orchestra for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I have had the pleasure of both observing and participating in a truly entertaining theatrical production.Typically, the pit orchestra for a musical is positioned below the stage, mostly hidden from the audience’s sight; the idea is that the orchestra simply provides auditory background accompaniment to support the actors onstage. 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, however, is a story within a story. Upon entering Duke Family Performance Hall, audience members are transported to a Victorian era music hall where a nineteenth-century theatre troupe recounts the tale of Drood.

In order to create this world, the pit orchestra for this production is only slightly lower than the stage, making the orchestra a clearly visible part of the show.The pit orchestra is essentially performing as Victorian era musicians who, in addition to providing musical accompaniment, interact with cast members in various parts of the show. 

Instead of dressing inconspicuously in the all-black attire of a typical pit orchestra, the musicians embrace their visibility with Victorian era costumes. Ultimately, the musicians for Drood get to play a more prominent role than in other musicals.

My physical position as a violinist in the pit allows me a clear view of the stage. I like to think that this helps me create more expressive music because I can appreciate how my role connects with actions onstage. 

For instance, music helps set the mood of the scene; seeing characters’ faces, special lighting, and dance moves enables me to better interpret that mood and determine what musical techniques should be used to communicate it. The uniquely visible nature of the Drood pit orchestra allows me to be both creatively engaged in and personally entertained by this production. 

It is sometimes a challenge, however, to remain attentive to the music when I am tempted to become engrossed in the happenings onstage. In any case, it is an honor to play a role in supporting the hard work of a cast and crew that has put together such an enjoyable and captivating production.

Clara Hare-Grogg ‘19 is a Anthropology and Music double major from Montreat, NC. She can be reached for comment at clharegrogg@davidson.edu 

Lee Kromer ’21

Lighting Crew

Throughout my almost fifteen-year service to the theatre, I have had the privilege of studying almost every aspect of its craft. Though unable to perform in The Mystery of Edwin Drood because of my role in Detective Partner Hero Villain earlier this spring, I could work on the crew. So, every show I take my position as Spotlight Operator, sniping actors with my red-dot-sighted follow-spot nicknamed “Moral Support.”

I’ll skip over the script with the sole justification that I don’t like it. Indeed, I would argue that our performing talent far exceeds writing quality. The laud belongs to the company and production staff. Their implementation of the words on the page creates the art. The entire company worked hard over the past few months and continued to perfect musical numbers in the hours before each show. 

For examples, look no further than the performances of Ashley Behnke ‘19 and Kessler Catterall ‘18. Alone, each is enrapturing; together, downright bewitching. Their contagious energy and physical presence lift the dialogue beyond what one might glean from merely reading the script, and by voting time, the audience is hopelessly infected.

However energetic, acting alone is just pantomime. Part of what makes Davidson’s performances so special is the world-building. Set pieces are artistic yet mobile, allowing the audience to feel deposited into Dickensian England without detracting precious energy. In terms of lighting, particularly with Kessler’s scenes, bathing her in spooky, red light from various angles scatters ominous shadows across her face, shifting with every move she makes. 

Minor details such as these heighten the actors’ performances, and, honestly, make acting fun. When actors have fun, the audience has fun, regardless of a script’s shortcomings. One of Davidson’s most significant advantages is the chemistry between company members. The cast is remarkably close, despite the fact many aren’t theatre majors. Before shows, I bear witness to the shenanigans and comical interactions between company members, and this affection osmoses into the performance. Rigorous rehearsal allows all to have fun during performances and thereby pass it on to the audience, inviting the entire house to join in the willing suspension of disbelief, connecting the town and the College. Such is the power of theatre.

Lee Kromer ‘21 is an undeclared major from Charlotte, NC. He can be reached for comment at lekromer@davidson.edu

Ashley Behnke  ‘19

Actress

As the leading male impersonator of the Music Hall Royale, I embody the gusto and oozing confidence of white masculinity in my role of Edwin Drood. My male castmates help me get into character each night by physically knocking me around until I’m annoyed enough to hit them back. 

In my theatrical career, I have eternally played either the naïve ingénue or mysterious seductress, always an extremely feminine lady. This role has challenged me to embody what it means to fully take up space and own my power on the stage as this overconfident, dominant male.

However, while embodying masculinity is definitely not in my traditional type-cast, this show has allowed everyone in the cast (myself included) to “play” more than I’ve ever experienced before. Madison Hardaway ‘19 showed us all up on day one with his absolutely hilarious transformation from Chairman to Mayor Sapsea, showcasing his daring vocal and physical choices that bring so much life and absurdity to the character.

This show is truly an ensemble piece, with everyone bringing bold, fun, and playful choices to the stage. There is something almost spiritual about a cast that bonds and connects so intensely in such a short amount of time. They are some of the most soulful, witty, and downright pleasant people I’ve ever been around and starting our GroupMe was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. 

Only a cast this wonderful could have made this shockingly challenging musical score and remarkably bizarre script so downright entertaining and magical. However, take my comments as you will, knowing that this show received Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score when it was first performed in 1985. 

With an ending that is consistently surprising and various twists throughout, this musical leaves both actors and audience members on their toes, excited for whatever may come next. As this is my last production at Davidson, I will do my best not to cry at the final curtain. Hope to see you there, tears or no tears!

Ashley Behnke ‘19 is a Theatre and Sociology double major from Washington, DC. She can be reached for comment at asbehnke@davidson.edu. 

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