Landless Theatre Company is off to the races! Off to the races! I said, they’re OFF TO THE RACES with their workshop production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Symphonic Metal Version. Directed by Melissa Baughman, with Musical Direction by Andrew Lloyd Baughman and Zachary Pinkham, this symphonic metal version of Rupert Holmes’ musical (based on the unfinished play by Charles Dickens) features new arrangements and orchestrations by The Fleet Street Collective of Landless Theatre Company. Edgy, gritty, and perfectly primed for “the metal treatment”, a quick-growing hallmark of LTC productions, this performance is a wildly interactive theatrical delight that proves the great Stephen Sondheim wrong when he said “…rock music couldn’t be funny.” Featuring a killer live orchestra (Conducted by Zachary Pinkham with Ray Shaw on bass, Tom Collins on electric guitar, Jason Labrador on electric violin, and John Maestri on percussion), this rip-roaring good time is a foreboding yet funny piece of musical theatre that will keep you snickering and suspecting from beginning to end.
Director Melissa Baughman lends her practiced expertise to the show by simplifying it to its very core. With symphonic metal orchestrations aplenty, Baughman takes the show in an almost concert vein, giving it a true rocker’s verve, particularly when numbers like “Two Kinsmen” and “Both Sides of the Coin” are staged, featuring nothing but the two performers and the gripping relationship they have with their full-stand microphones. Keeping the set non-existent, the props (crafted with creativity by Masters Amanda Williams and Brenna St. Ours) basic, and the Lighting (designed by Carey Rausch) appropriately flavored for a metal concert, Baughman draws the audience into what’s really important: the story.
Costume Designer Terri Magers infuses the outfits of the performance with a ripe London-underground aesthetic. Caught halfway between Victorian era London and a steampunk trend show, Magers gives each player a costume that suits their character as well as the metal vibe that is blended into the production with the new orchestrations. Costumes worth particularly note are the dapper duds featured on the title character as well as the flowing white dress seen on Rosa Bud, which serves as an homage to Christine Daae (and becomes a laughable matter for those familiar with Phantom of the Opera when the John Jasper character takes the piss out of it a bit later on in the performance.)
The ensemble is a powerful group that turns out robust sounds throughout the production. Group numbers like “Off to the Races” are not only bursting with volume but are brimming with eager enthusiasm, the sort which is infectious neigh on contagious and grabs the audience for a rollicking good romp straight into the interval. Finding good balances and blends among one another, “The Writing on the Wall”, which starts as a solo featuring the title character, becomes a strong and finite way to conclude the show. In addition to having a fine cast, members of the orchestra should be noted for their exceptionally sharp playing, in particular electric violinist Jason Labrador. Featured most prominently during “The Wages of Sin”, Labrador riffs away on his electrified strings, giving the number an extra punch of panache.
Filled with spunk and pluck, Deputy (at this performance Alexis Turbat) finds all of the adorable moments in the limelight. Alternating the role with Dylan Ngo, Turbat is a precocious performer that breathes in the life of young Deputy. Featured in the leading trio (comprised of himself, and the characters of Durdles and the Chairman/Mayor Sapsea), Turbat is given a chance to showcase his vocal prowess as well, holding his own in a fashion most impressive against these two veteran performers. Keep a close eye on the way Turbat handles the more grown-up situations, there’s humor to be had there as well.
Neville (Andre Brown) and Helena (Mary Patton) Landless are two mildly featured performers who should be noted for their wicked facial expressions and outrageous accents, respectively. Brown, who brings a solid singing voice to the table for his portions of “A British Subject” and “No Good Can Come from Bad”, has zany facial responses to the good Reverend Crisparkle (Jason Hoffman) when the Landless siblings are first introduced. Patton, who amplifies the campy feature of her character’s curiously untraceable accent, delivers a good foil to Brown’s Neville and the pair find their niche among the cast quite readily.
Hoffman, as the doddering Reverend, is quite comically in-tune. And at this performance, quite madly murderous. (Fear not, this isn’t a spoiler as each performance is different— the murderer is determined afresh with each new audience!) Laying heavy and hard into “The Solution” once he’s been charged, Hoffman surprises the audience with a powerful and well-toned singing voice, which up to that point in the show had been hardly featured at all. Present of mind and dedicated to the peculiar quirks of the character, Hoffman plays the good man of the cloth as if the show were his own story and not that Edwin Drood.
Hamming up the role of Mr. Nick Cricker, though better known as Durdles (in addition to being interactive, Drood is a meta show where there’s a play within a play), Matt Baughman tickles the audience into side-splitting laughter when it comes to all of his antics and well affected voice. At this performance Baughman was selected to be the lover (again different with every show) alongside the powerful Princess Puffer (Ally Jenkins.) As if Baughman weren’t hilariously hammy on his own, he and Jenkins go at it full-throttle for the lover’s song at the end of the show, getting a real rise from the audience.
Jenkins, who is equally as camptastic as Baughman, delivers the character of Princess Puffer with a pop of pizzazz and an overwhelming dose of comedic shtick. Relying heavily on her ridiculous facial expressions, Jenkins unearths all the rich humors that accompany the character’s track. With a potent singing voice both “The Wages of Sin” and “The Garden Path to Hell” possess a salacious quality blended against a robust belter’s sound. Jenkins owns the role and gets her 15 seconds of stardom, especially at this evening’s production.
Existing as the female ingénue, Shaina Kuhn plays the dulcetly inclined Rosa Bud, young lover to the titular character. With an operatic soprano sound— and a firm handle on both her ‘in-character’ British accent and her Music Hall Royale character French accent— Kuhn is quite impressive in the role. Possessed of a haunted pathos when vocally gliding into “Moonfall”, Kuhn translates the fear and anxiety of the song not only with her singing voice but also with her deeply expressive eyes. This is true of “The Name of Love”, a duet shared with John Jasper (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) though the sentiment of the song has soured greatly from fear to loathing.
Baughman, as the notoriously vile and lustfully lecherous John Jasper, brings a refined vocal palette to the table. With equal parts dotty humor in the more “ad-lib” leaning moments to balance out the chillingly unsavory moments that are better associated with John Jasper, Baughman creates a balanced dichotomy within his portrayal. His rendition of “A Man Could go Quite Mad” is equally haunting as Kuhn’s “Moonfall” though in a far different vein of spine-tingling fright. Taking point in the song, “Two Kinsmen,” a duet shared with Edwin Drood (Karissa Swanigan), Baughman leads the concert-esque moves of circling one another with full-stand microphones in tow. But it’s his duet with Mayor Sapsea (Malcolm Lee) “Both Sides of the Coin” that really steals the thunder of the show. Baughman and Lee nail the heavy patter of the number and blast the audience with their ability to double and then triple time the absurd amount of words that come rattling out of the chorus.
Karissa Swanigan, who is impressive as Drood, presents a vocal ability well rounded as any other featured in the cast. Whether it’s the caustic spoken spats between her character and Neville Landless, the tender exchanges between Drood and Rosa, or the outright nonsensical slinking about at the top of the second act (and subsequently being featured in musical numbers like “Settling Up the Score” and “Don’t Quite While You’re Ahead”), Swanigan is well-suited for the role and delivers a smashingly good rendition of Edwin Drood. The same can be said for the spastically energetic Chairman (again, Malcolm Lee.) With gusto and peppery panache, Lee is a potent pistol in the role, particularly when it comes to his outright fits. With keen comic timing and a foppish wit, especially when it comes to antagonizing the audience, Lee grabs hold of the show by the haunches and rides it into submission, making for one wildly entertaining journey from beginning to end.
Full of twists and turns and utter surprises it is no shocker that the scene-stealing hero arrives in the form of the under-appreciated Phillip Bax/Bazzard character played with great aplomb by Eric Jones. His astonishing vocal qualities, Jones delivers pristine renditions of both “Never the Luck” and his segment in “The Solution” as at this performance the audience selected him to be Datchery. But these roles only begin to scratch the surface of the fantastical wonders that Jones brings to the production. As the show begins his absurdly flamboyant character engages the audience and encourages them into a participatory mood. The falsetto squeal of “the goose is done” during “No Good Can Come From Bad” is hilariously praiseworthy, as is every physical shenanigan carried out by Jones over the course of the evening.
It’s a wonderful experience, with truly remarkable new orchestrations, and it’s a good time all around. Make sure to snag a selfie with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the top of the pre-show entertainment, so that you too can forever possess the memory of the most absurd thing to hit The Music Hall Royale since 1895.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Symphonic Metal Version plays through September 25, 2016 with Landless Theatre Company at Arts on the Green in the Kentlands Mansion & Arts Barn— 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 258-6394 or purchase them online.
To read the rockin’ rad interview featuring Dylan Ngo and Alexis Turbat, click here.