By Missi Tessier
The British Players’ upcoming production on Rupert Holmes’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood has a story of its own, becoming over the last two years “the little play that could.” It was originally set to premiere in June 2020, but the pandemic that has threatened every theater company in the world forced delays to 2021 and then to 2022.
But the challenges did not end there. Just when British Players thought it was clear of any complications, it faced a retroactive challenge: the DC earthquake of 2011. Long-deferred rehabilitation from structural damage from the earthquake to British Players’ home performance space in the Kensington Town Hall was scheduled for June — after the show had been cast and rehearsals had begun. Assuming a new motto, “Keep Calm and Find a Theatre,” the British Players performed an exhaustive search for a new venue and was fortunate enough to find a home at the beautiful theater in the Nolan Center at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School.
Drood is one of those shows with a passionate fan base among lovers of musical theater. Director Laura Andruski “was hooked from the opening bars of music” when she saw a number from the show introduced by Bea Arthur on the televised 1986 Tony awards. “As a lover of the murder mystery genre, I felt destined to direct the show one day,” she said. It was a “bucket list” play for her. When approached by British Players co-producer Teri Klein Allred to pitch presenting the show in the style of a traditional Victorian Music Hall to the British Players Board, her journey with Drood took flight. But neither she nor her producers Allred and Lauren Pacuit had any idea of the twists the production would take.
After assembling “one of the finest production teams I have ever had the privilege to work with,” Andruski began planning for auditions in March 2020. After a two-year break, British Players relaunched the production and had to replace two key members of the production team. Both the musical director, and the hair and wig designer — a key position for an authentic Victorian production — had to drop out for other commitments.
Casting the show was next, and there was no shortage of local performers who felt the strong pull of this special show. Chuck McCarter is reprising the role of Reverend Crisparkle, a part he played 33 years ago at the Frankfurt American Playhouse in Germany. “This time I don’t have to paint gray hair or wrinkles,” McCarter said. “It was the most fun show I ever did, since each night the audience chooses the murderer, so we never knew when the curtain went up how the show would end.”
After three weeks of rehearsal, British Players received word from Kensington that the Town Hall would be closed for renovations during the previously scheduled show dates. While other theater companies might consider this a death blow, the British Players Board moved quickly and was surprised to find a number of different facilities that would allow for the production on the scheduled dates. The best by far was the stunning theater at Georgetown Visitation. This new venue will accommodate the set, equipment, and performers beautifully and allow for easy interaction with members of the audience, which is a key component of the production.
Members of the cast are thrilled that the show will indeed go on. Niranjali Amerisinghe, a native Sri Lankan who plays the role of Helena Landless/Janet Conover, finds her part “mind-bending” as the show has two characters that are British pretending to be Sri Lankan. As the parts are purposefully played to stereotype, she finds that being one of the two people of color playing those roles to be “a double mind bend.”
Shelby Young has found her “dream role” as Rosa Bud/Deirdre Peregrine. Having worked the front of house for a previous production of the show, she watched the show intently for seven performances, learning everything she could about the role. When not preparing for Broadway auditions and an eventual move to New York, Shelby has been working as an after-care assistant and commuting 37 miles from Woodbridge to rehearsals for her demanding role in Drood. “I felt I needed to play this character,” she said.
For everyone in DC-area theater who never stopped finding some way to direct, produce, or perform during the pandemic, this production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a don’t-miss. While the music hall–style seating (and the saucy barmaids that come with it!) had to be eliminated due to the fixed seating in the new performance space, British Players is determined to make this “little show that could” a delight for everyone.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood will play June 10 to 25, 2022, presented by The British Players performing in the heart of Georgetown at the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School: Nolan Center, 1524 35th St NW, Washington, DC, where there is plentiful, on-site free parking. Tickets ($28 adult, $15 children under 12) are available for purchase online.
COVID Safety: The British Players are following DC guidelines, which state that masks are optional, but this policy is subject to change.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Laura W. Andruski
Music Direction by Valerie A. Higgs
Choreography by Valerie Mikles
Produced by Teri Klein Allred and Lauren Pacuit
Based on Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, this hilarious whodunit invites the audience to solve the mystery by choosing the identity of the murderer. The tale is presented as a show-within-a show, as the Music Hall Royale — a delightfully loony Victorian theater company — presents Dickens’s brooding mystery. Musical numbers include “Perfect Strangers,” “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead,” “Off to the Races,” and “Moonfall”.
Missi Tessier is a member of The British Players Board.