For the first time in a Broadway musical, the writer didn’t struggle to figure out an appropriate ending for the show; he simply let the audience figure it out for themselves! The musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood is derived from two major inspirations: Charles Dickens’ final (and unfinished) novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the British pantomime and music hall traditions that reached the height of their popularity in the years following Dickens’ death.
Dickens’ Mystery began publication in 1870. The book, which had been written and published in episodic installments (as had most of Dickens’ other novels) was left unfinished upon Dickens’ sudden death from a stroke that year. The lack of resolution to the mystery (and the absence of notes that would indicate Dickens’ intentions) have made The Mystery of Edwin Drood a literary curiosity. Almost immediately after the publication of Dickens’ last episode, various authors and playwrights (including Dickens’ own son) attempted to resolve the story with their own endings:by the time of the Drood musical’s production, there had been several “collaborations” between the late Dickens and other novelists, numerous theatrical extrapolations of the material, and three film adaptations of the story.
After Rupert Holmes (a well-known songwriter whose songs had been performed by the likes of Barbra Streisand, and who had himself recorded the #1 hit “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” in 1979) wrote an initial draft that lasted three-and-a-half hours, and performed it, solo, for Joseph Papp, Gail Merrifield, and Wilford Leach, (the New York Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director), Papp offered to produce the show as part of the Festival (also known as “Shakespeare in the Park”), and told Holmes that it would be immediately transferred to Broadway if it was deemed a success.
Most inventively, Holmes employed a novel method of determining the outcome of the play: having the audience vote for an ending. At a break in the show, the audience votes on who killed Drood (if, indeed, he was killed at all), the identity of the mysterious Dick Datchery, and on which two characters will become romantically involved in the end, creating a happy ending. Since every audience differs in temperament, the outcome is theoretically unpredictable even to the actors, who must quickly tally the votes and commence with the chosen ending (although some smaller companies will “fix” the results to limit the number of possible endings). This device required extra work from Holmes, who had to write numerous short endings which covered every possible voting outcome.
The original production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood premiered in New York City’s Central Park at the Delacorte Theatre on August 21, 1985 after only three weeks of rehearsals. Notably, Holmes conceived most of the orchestrations himself, a rarity for a Broadway composer. After the final Festival performance on September 1, preparations for the Broadway transfer (retaining the original cast) immediately got underway. Following a great deal of editing (the Delacorte version contained 32 original songs and was nearly three hours long)The Mystery of Edwin Drood opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on December 2, 1985. Roughly halfway through the run, the title of the musical was officially shortened to Drood (the name it continues to be licensed under). The show ran for 608 performances (not including 24 previews), and closed on May 16, 1987. The Broadway production was produced by Papp and directed by Leach, with choreography by Graciela Daniele.
The opening night cast of the Broadway production starred George Rose, Cleo Laine, John Herrera, Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour, and Jana Schneider, as well as Betty Buckley in the title role. Donna Murphy, Judy Kuhn, and Rob Marshall were also members of the ensemble. (Marshall, brother of Bway director Kathleen Marshall, would later become best known as the choreographer and film director 0f Chicago, also received an early choreography credit as assistant to Daniele.) The show would go on to win 5 Tony Awards in 1986, including Best Musical, and Best Direction for Wilford Leach. Before the show ended its run, Murphy, who was understudy to Cleo Laine and Jana Schneider, took over the title role. Other notable replacements during the show’s run included Alison Fraser (taking over for Jana Schneider), Paige O’Hara (taking over for Donna Murphy as Drood), as well as Loretta Swit and later Karen Morrow, who stepped into Laine’s roles.
In 1988, several months after closing on Broadway, a slightly-revised version of Drood began its first North America tour at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, DC, with Rose, Schneider and O’Hara reprising their leads, and Jean Stapleton playing Laine’s role.During a break in the tour George Rose returned to his home in the Dominican Republic, and sadly was murdered during his stay. Rose was succeeded by Clive Revill. The show, now licensed by Tams-Witmark, has since has enjoyed a second U.S. national tour, a 1987 West End run at the Savoy Theatre in London,a production at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada; and numerous regional and professional and amateur theatrical productions worldwide.In 2007–08, a London revival, presented as a chamber piece and directed by Ted Craig, ran at the Warehouse Theatre. The Roundabout Theatre Company presented a Broadway revival at Studio 54, which opened in November 2012. The production is directed by Scott Ellis, and stars Chita Rivera as Puffer, Stephanie J. Block as Drood, Will Chase as Jasper, Jim Norton as the Chairman and Gregg Edelmann as Crisparkle. It was a 2013 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical nominee.
Click below to watch original footage of The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Broadway in 1985.
“The Writing On The Wall” Off-Bway at the Public, Delacorte Theater 1985 (three months prior to Bway)
“There You Are”
“Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead”
“The Writing On The Wall” – Broadway
‘Drood’ (adorable) Television Commercial-1985
1986 Tony Awards