The Hangar Theatre is preparing to host local theater company Savoyards Ithaca’s most ambitious musical theater production this September, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
The company used to focus on smaller operas under the name Cornell Savoyards but is shifting its focus and branching out to allow local performers to get involved with a different style of theater. The cast and crew of 50 — 28 of which are Ithaca College students or alumni — have been preparing for months to bring the script to life on stage.
The play was adapted from Charles Dickens’s last, unfinished novel, written in 1870. The storyline follows the mysterious murder of Edwin Drood, but because the novel was left incomplete, the murderer is never revealed.
Rupert Holmes’s award-winning musical rendition of Dickens novel allows the audience to participate alongside the actors in the whodunit-style production to finally solve the novel’s cliffhanger and expose the murderer.
Junior Carin Estey, the assistant director, said the plotline is unlike any other. The audience is asked to directly participate in the show by voting on who they think the culprit is. They vote by raising their hands, by the intensity of their applause and by vocalizing their opinions. The audience is used to complete only one of many possible outcomes that alter the course of the show. However, with each new night bringing in a new audience, there will be a different outcome at the end of each performance.
“Throughout the show, even before the ending, the audience has a chance to interact with the actors,” Estey said. “If you come see the show you might be spoken to at any given point. Someone might even sit on your lap or they might single you out and ask you a question!”
Estey encourages people to see this show, which she said represents all walks of life and supports diversity within the cast and crew.
“We have people who have varying levels of experience with theater,” she said. “Some people are professors of music or teachers of music or opera, but we have cast members whose day jobs are being a vet or carpentry. So we have all types of people and all levels of experience from professionals to stay-at-home moms.”
Gabriella Carr ‘14 is the director of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” She said that something beautiful about this show, in addition to the audience immersion, is its characteristic of shameless self–expression.
“I think the expression of gender identity and sexuality and the expression of queer and non-normative lifestyle is a big factor in this show,” Carr said. “Now you don’t have to go hide in a dingy theater in the middle of the night. This is something you can do … you can be proud of your identity day-to-day.”
Carr said their production will follow Holmes’s original intent by featuring queer characters, having women playing men’s roles and vice versa, and incorporating a musical number devoted to forbidden love between two men. She said this aspect is distinct because at the time the play was written in 1985, anything outside of the norm wasn’t validated or respected by society.
Over the last months of rehearsals, Carr said that she was moved to tears over how well the play has turned out.
“I always cry as a director when it comes together,” Carr said. “Like, when you have that moment when you say, ‘We actually have a show, it’s ready for someone to see it.’ I always cry. It’s like having a baby. It’s in your head and you’re just … dreaming about it and you’re like ‘Hopefully this will all work out.’”
Junior Nicole Cronin is the music director for vocals for the show. Cronin said she has really enjoyed working with everyone involved in the production, where ages spanned from 16 to 74. She said she felt accepted by everyone even when she was the youngest in the room.
“It’s a great group, a great atmosphere,” Cronin said. “I felt included and welcomed by everyone and really felt like part of the family.”
After spending five days out of the week with the members of this production, Cronin said the memories she has experienced with them during rehearsals are ones of which she is extremely fond. She hopes that when the public sees it later this month it will give them the amount of joy it gave her.
“I would say it’s also gratifying just to see the amount of work and dedication that everyone has put into making all this happen,” she said. “It’s just the best feeling in the world.”
Savoyards Ithaca’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” will be shown at 8 p.m. Sept. 15–16 and 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Hangar Theatre. Regular admission tickets are $22, student tickets are $17 and childrens’ tickets are $12. To book tickets call (607) 273-ARTS or visit www.hangartheatre.org for more information.