Drood (originally The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is a musical based on the unfinished Charles Dickens novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It is one of the few modern examples of a Broadway musical with book, lyrics, music, and orchestrations all by the same creator (Rupert Holmes), and the first Broadway musical with multiple endings (determined by audience vote). Holmes received Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Music and Best Lyrics. The musical won five Tony Awards out of eleven nominations, including Best Musical.
The musical first debuted as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival in August 1985, and, following revision, transferred to Broadway, where it ran until May 1987. Two national tours and a production in London's West End followed. Though the show has yet to have a Broadway revival, it continues to be popular with regional, amateur, and student theater companies and has seen numerous foreign productions.
Dickens's Mystery began publication in 1870. The book, which had been written and published in episodic installments (as had most of Dickens's other novels) was left unfinished upon Dickens's sudden death from a stroke that year. The lack of resolution to the mystery (and the absence of notes that would indicate Dickens's intentions) have made The Mystery of Edwin Drood a literary curiosity. Almost immediately after the publication of Dickens's last episode, various authors and playwrights (including Dickens's 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.
Contemporaneous with Dickens's writing, British pantomime styles — distinguished by the importance of audience participation and conventions like the principal boy — reached their height of popularity, just as music hall performance with its attributes of raucous, risque comedy and a distinctive style of music began to achieve prominence.
Rupert Holmes, who would go on to be the major creative contributor to the musical Drood, spent his early childhood in England. At age three, he would experience theater for the first time when he was taken to a modern "panto", complete with cross-dressing lead boy and audience sing-alongs. Some years later, as an 11-year-old boy fascinated by mystery books, Holmes first discovered the unfinished Dickens novel. Both of those seminal experiences would go on to have a major impact on Holmes when he was first approached to write a new musical by impresario Joseph Papp.
Drawing on his recollections of pantomime and Dickens's novel, as well as later experiences with Victorian-style music hall performance, Holmes conceived the central premises of the show. From the Dickens work, Holmes took the central plot and most of the featured characters. From music hall traditions, he created the lead character of "The Chairman", a sort of Master of Ceremonies and instigator of the action on stage. And from pantomime he retained the concept of the "Lead Boy" (always portrayed by a young female in male drag) and the most ground-breaking aspect of Drood, audience participation.
Drood is unusual in part because of Holmes's feat of writing the book, music, lyrics, and full orchestrations for the show. Though Holmes believed no Broadway creator had done this before, and despite frequent mentions of this feat in articles and reviews of the show, the practice was not entirely uncommon in the early days of musical theater. Songwriters including Adolf Philipp, were previously credited with the books to their musicals. However, none of these composer/librettists had written their own orchestrations as well.
In writing the book, Holmes did not let Dickens overshadow his own intentions. Rather than imitate Dickens's writing style, which he felt would be too bleak for the kind of show he wished to write, Holmes employed the device of a "show-within-a-show." The cast members of Drood do not specifically play Dickens's characters, but rather music hall performers who are performing as Dickens's characters. This device allowed for a great deal of light comedy that was not originally found in Dickens's novel to be incorporated into the show, as well as several musical numbers that were unrelated to the original story. In explaining this decision, Holmes was quoted as saying, "This is not Nicholas Nickleby set to music--it's not a Dickensian work. It's light and fun and entertaining. But I hope--I think--that Dickens would have enjoyed it." Holmes has also pointed out that "It has the same relationship to Dickens that Kiss Me Kate does to The Taming of the Shrew." The pantomime concept also allowed Holmes to employ a female in the lead male role, which further allowed him to write a love song designed to be sung by two sopranos.
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 first Dickens character introduced is the choirmaster John Jasper, a "respectable" member of society who shares with the audience the fact that he actually suffers from inner torment ("A Man Could Go Quite Mad"). Next to be introduced is Jasper's nephew, Edwin Drood (whom the Chairman reveals is being played by the famous male impersonator Miss Alice Nutting), who discusses his impending arranged marriage to Rosa Bud with Jasper, as well as his plans to leave for Egypt after the wedding ("Two Kinsmen").
Drood's fiancee, Rosa Budd, is then introduced at the "Nun's House," (a ladies' seminary). It is her birthday, and Jasper, her music tutor, has composed a song for Rosa ("Moonfall") which he insists on hearing her sing. During the encore, two orphans from Ceylon, Neville and Helena Landless, enter with the Reverend Crisparkle. After Rosa faints from the lustful lyrics of Jasper's song, Helena comes to her aid ("Moonfall Quartet") while Neville displays an attraction to Rosa. Next to introduce herself is Princess Puffer, the madame of an opium den ("The Wages of Sin"). We see that respectable Jasper is himself a customer of the den, and, as he dreams of Drood and Rosa, Puffer reacts to Rosa's name.
The following day, Rev. Crisparkle introduces Edwin and the Landless twins. When Drood shares his plan to pave a desert highway with stones from the Egyptian pyramids, he offends his new rival Neville and his sister: the three then proceed to argue ("Ceylon"). When Jasper enters with Mayor Sapsea, he points out to the mayor that everything is not always what it seems ("Both Sides of the Coin").
Jasper sneaks around the cemetery, where he obtains a key to one of the tombs. Afterwards, Edwin and Rosa reveal that they both have strong misgivings about their upcoming nuptials ("Perfect Strangers"), and decide to break off their wedding plans, but not to tell anyone until after the Christmas holiday. At Jasper's home, the major players join together to celebrate Christmas dinner, but all is not jolly as the rivalries and dark motivations of all are revealed ("No Good Can Come From Bad"). Edwin and Neville head out to the river as the others depart, and Jasper offers his topcoat to Edwin.
The following day Edwin has disappeared, and Crisparkle's assistant Bazzard has found Jasper's coat torn and bloodied. Drood is presumed murdered, and Neville is the chief suspect. Bazzard takes a moment to lament his own failures ("Never the Luck"), but remains optimistic. Though Neville is captured, he is soon released. Meanwhile, Jasper admits to Rosa that he is in love with her. An angry Rosa turns on Jasper ("The Name of Love"), which leads into a reprise of "Moonfall".
While looking for Jasper, Puffer meets Rosa Budd and, joined by the rest of the cast, tells her not to give up her ambitions ("Don't Quit While You're Ahead"). Abruptly, in the middle of the song, all stops: this is as far as Dickens got before he died. It is now time for the audience to decide how the story ends. First it must be determined whether Edwin is actually dead or not. It turns out that Alice Nutting, female impersonator, has been wearing the Datchery costume in order to fulfill her contract to appear in two acts of the play—but are Datchery and Drood one and the same? The cast votes unanimously that Drood is, indeed, dead. Alice, before being sent off, angrily tells the cast that they were all jealous of her, and that that is the only reason why she is being dismissed. After her exit, the Chairman reveals the truth: Alice was a pain, but now it remains to be determined who Datchery truly is. The audience votes for a new Datchery by applause (anyone who has already appeared in scenes with him is ruled out), and the actor chosen goes to make a costume change for the finale.
Next to be determined is the murderer. The Chairman runs down the list of possible murderers and their motives for the crime. The audience is asked to vote by "districts" for the killer, and while the votes are tallied a reprise of "Settling Up The Score" leads into the resolution of "The Mystery".
Puffer finds Rosa and reveals that, years before, she had been Rosa's nanny ("The Garden Path To Hell"). She continues with "Puffer's Confession" and reveals the identity of Datchery (previously chosen by the audience.) The evening's Datchery (either Bazzard, Reverend Crisparkle, Helena, Neville, or Rosa) explains why he or she wants to find the killer ("Out On A Limerick") and promptly accuses Jasper of being the murderer. Jasper soon admits that he strangled his nephew while in a laudanum haze ("Jasper's Confession"). Durdles the gravedigger, however, disagrees; he witnessed the crime and knows who truly killed Edwin Drood. Depending on the audience's vote, the finger is pointed at Bazzard, Crisparkle, Helena, Neville, Puffer or Rosa. The murderer confesses, then sings a reprise of one of several numbers to admit his or her culpability.
Still, a happy ending is needed, and the Chairman asks the audience to choose two lovers from among the remaining cast members. The two chosen members declare their love, and then reprise "Perfect Strangers". Just then, there comes a noise from the crypt, and a very-much-alive Edwin Drood appears, ready to tell all what really happened on the night of his disappearance ("The Writing On The Wall"). The mystery is solved, and the members of the company take their bows ("Don't Quit While You're Ahead" (reprise)).
* Not included on the original cast recording
The version of Drood that Tams-Witmark licenses to theater companies does not include "A Man Could Go Quite Mad," "Ceylon," "Settling Up the Score," or the quartet reprise of "Moonfall," though they are provided as "additional material" and theaters can choose whether or not to use those songs in their productions. Offered instead of "Ceylon" is "A British Subject," and instead of "Settling Up the Score" is "A Private Investigation."
In 1985, a recording was made of The Mystery of Edwin Drood featuring the original Broadway cast. This recording was released by Polydor with the additional subtitle, The Solve-It-Yourself Broadway Musical (Polydor 827969) and included versions of "Out on a Limerick" by all five possible Datcherys (Rosa, Crisparkle, Bazzard, Neville, and Helena) and all six possible Murderer's Confessions (Puffer, Rosa, Bazzard, Crisparkle, Neville, and Helena), as well as an "instructional track" entitled "A Word From Your Chairman...." A 1990 re-issue of the cast album by Varèse Sarabande (Varèse 5597) added two previously unreleased tracks, "Ceylon" and "Moonfall Quartet", but included only Bazzard's version of "Out on a Limerick" and two Murderer Confessions (Rosa's and Puffer's). The Polydor recording was never made available on cassette or LP, unlike the Varese Sarabande re-release. Both versions of the cast album are currently out of print, but can sometimes be found (often at a high price) through secondhand vendors or online auction sites.
An Australian cast album (GEP Records 9401) was released in 1994. This recording did not include "Ceylon" or "Moonfall Quartet", but did include three previously unrecorded tracks: "A British Subject", "Puffer's Revelation", and "Durdles' Confession". Two songs that were omitted from Drood before it reached Broadway, "An English Music Hall" and "Evensong," were later recorded for the 1994 album, Lost In Boston.
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 (a 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, who were all nominated for 1986 Tony Awards for their performances, as well as Betty Buckley in the title role. Donna Murphy, Judy Kuhn, and Rob Marshall were also members of the ensemble. (Marshall, who would later become best known as a choreographer and theater/film director, also received an early choreography credit as assistant to Daniele.) 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 the tour, 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 Toronto, 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.