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reviewed by Adam Crowe

If you examine the shows that make up the seasons at many Indy area professional and community theaters, you will usually see some duplications. and you will certainly recognize many, if not most, of the shows being performed. That is why it is always such welcome news when a theater presents something new or rarely done. And I was very excited when Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) announced that the penultimate production for their current season would be the rarely seen The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This Tony Award winner, written by pop composer Rupert Holmes, is based on an unfinished story by Charles Dickens. It is the “unfinished” nature of the story that propels the narrative of the musical and marked a Broadway First. The Mystery of Edwin Drood was the first Broadway musical to feature multiple endings. The audience is tasked to select the villain at the pinnacle of each performance. It is a device since used by other shows, but was first made famous by “Drood.

ATI’s production – directed and choreographed by D.J. Salisbury – transports the audience to an old-fashioned British Music Hall, where performers are introduced and their roles announced. In this Musical within a Musical, the audience collects clues as the story is told, and at the appropriate moment, casts their ballots for the character they believe committed the “crime”. Salisbury’s direction is clear and clean, briskly moving the story along. His accompanying choreography is delightful.

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Clockwise from center: Cynthia Collins, Judy Fitzgerald, Eric Olson, Tom Lancaster, and Harli Cooper perform in ATI’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”.

For this ingenious production, ATI has assembled an extraordinary cast, starting with co-founders Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald. These two powerhouses are joined by the familiar faces (and voices) of Paul Collier Hansen, Eric Olson, John Vessels, Darrin Murrell, Karaline Feller, and Logan Moore. T.J. Lancaster, Harli Cooper, and Jaddy Ciucci all make their ATI debuts. The large cast shares the stage beautifully and works together so well that you’d swear that they had been performing together for years. Zigzagging between their roles as “actors” in the Music Hall and their assigned Dickensian characters, the cast is enormously appealing, each having a chance to shine. Holmes has created alternate musical endings for the show, depending on the audience’s decisions, and I found myself marveling at a cast that had to be prepared to switch between multiple endings with very little lead time. This cast, I am happy to say, seems more than up to the task. Individually and as an ensemble, they are first rate!

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A scene from ATI’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”.

Designer Bernie Killian has once again produced a remarkable set, functional and evocative. Aaron Bowersox’s lighting is equally moody and elegant. Costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck are sumptuous and the musical direction of Keith Potts is delightful – his orchestra is terrific.

Even if it were a musical that was performed frequently, ATI’s production would be worth your time. Given its rather rare nature, and the superior treatment by ATI, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a must see.

Actors Theatre of Indiana is located in The Studio Theatre at the Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at atistage.org or by calling (317) 843-3800. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $45.00, with discounts on Wednesdays and for students and seniors. 

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