As Neville Landless (Britton Hollingsworth, L) and Edwin Drood (Elaine Cotter, R) argue, dinner guests (L to R) the Rev. Crisparkle (Andy Robinson), John Jasper (Riley McFarland), Rosa Bud (Kelly Britt) and Helena Landless (Sarah Ariel Brown) look on. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
As Neville Landless (Britton Hollingsworth, L) and Edwin Drood (Elaine Cotter, R) argue, dinner guests (L to R) the Rev. Crisparkle (Andy Robinson), John Jasper (Riley McFarland), Rosa Bud (Kelly Britt) and Helena Landless (Sarah Ariel Brown) look on. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Generally, if I say something like “I could see that again,” I don’t mean the very next night. It’s more like sometime down the road.

In the case of Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of the five-time Tony Award-winning musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” I actually mean I could go see it again – tonight. Then Friday, and a few more times next week. It’s not just because there’s eight possible endings either. The production is so well done, the cast is flawless, the costumes are fabulous, the dancing fresh, guest director Tony Humrichouser is on top of his game and the show is just so hilarious. There’s three more shows to the regular summer season and then the encore show, but “Drood” so far is my favorite show this year at the Wagon Wheel.

Oh, and you definitely want to get to the theater and in your seats 10 to 15 minutes early because the actors come out and interact with the audience before the show “starts.” The audience is given directions, joked with and maybe flirted with a bit by the actors. “Drood” may be one of the most interactive, audience-participation performances I’ve seen in a while. It also breaks the fourth wall more often than “Deadpool.”

Based on the unfinished final novel by Charles Dickens, the musical – written by Rupert Holmes – lets the audience vote on the real identity of Dick Datchery, a sleuth; who the real murderer of Drood is; and which two characters fall in love. It’s written as a show within a show, so the Wagon Wheel actors play actors playing characters.

Kind of serving as the narrator/ringmaster of the whole affair is Mike Yocum, who plays William Cartwright playing the Chairman and Sapsea. While it’s always important to listen to everything said and sung, audiences should definitely hear what Yocum’s characters have to say because they provide so much information as to what’s going on. Yocum also is just as entertaining as everyone else in this show and got more than a handful of laughs out of me opening night Wednesday.

Central to the storyline within the storyline is John Jasper, played to perfection by Riley McFarland. Jasper is Drood’s uncle and music teacher to Rosa Bud (Kelly Britt). Initially, Edwin and Rosa are engaged, but John is in love with Rosa, too, though he tries to keep his distance for his nephew’s sake. Rosa, meanwhile, fears Jasper.

McFarland had supporting roles in “Newsies” (as Snyder) and “Footloose” (as Lyle), but it’s in “Drood” where his acting and singing talent break through, and I was taken back by how gifted the California native revealed himself to be in this show.

When McFarland and Britt sing “The Name of Love/Moonfall” together in Act II, the word amazing just doesn’t cover it. They reach heights with their voices on notes that are just beyond stellar. Please, more duets from McFarland and Britt! If McFarland were to do a one-man show, with some acting and singing, I’d definitely buy a ticket to this sensational performer.

But it’s not just his singing capabilities. Jasper has some “medical” issues and McFarland shows he can play those convincingly. He has these intense eyes that draw you in, scare you, but you can’t look away. I could think of a number of future roles for McFarland that he could play just as well.

And where did Britt come from? Wow. Wow! What an amazing and gifted actress and singer. I don’t know how long she’s at the Wagon Wheel this summer, but I’m hoping it’s for the rest of the season and for seasons to come. Her voice is like an operatic angel announcing the glory of the heavens. All of the songs in “Drood” featuring her voice are worth listening to, and if you add McFarland’s voice to hers – or that of the other three women in “Moonfall Quartet” – even better.

Playing Drood is a talent herself, Elaine Cotter. Cotter was Katherine in “Newsies” and Belle in 2016’s “Beauty & The Beast.” In “Drood,” she’s playing Alice Nutting, a temperamental renown male impersonator, in the role of Drood.

Cotter does a great job playing two different genders. I was trying to watch to see if she slipped into one gender while being the other, but she kept her masculinity and femininity separate well enough to be convincing. As Drood, she had little mannerisms of a guy that she didn’t show when she was Alice, and vice versa. Cotter would make all the Drag Kings of the world proud.

Also in “Drood,” Cotter got to reach some heights musically that she didn’t quite get to explore in previous shows. I loved her voice in “Perfect Strangers,” a duet with Britt, and the two women’s voices pushed each other to be even better than if they had sung the song solo.

Really, though, I’m not sure there’s a bad voice in this cast. In Act I, McFarland as Jasper says, “When you sing the words, you must make me feel you mean them!” The cast of “Drood” Wednesday night made me feel the notes as if they did meant every word they said.

Another character who ends up wanting to be with Rosa is Neville Landless (Britton Hollingsworth). He comes into the show with his sister, Helena Landless (Sarah Ariel Brown), through the Rev. Crisparkle (Andy Robinson). Audiences may remember Hollingsworth as Jack in “Newsies” and Brown as Wendy Jo in “Footloose.” I’m not sure where Dickens was going to take these characters in his book had he finished it, but Hollingsworth and Brown make them interesting characters. There are certain moments with each performer in “Drood” that grabs the audience’s attention for a moment and provides a laugh.

In previous reviews, I’ve written about my admiration for Blake R. Bojewski’s performances as Crutchie in “Newsies” and Willard in “Footloose.” In “Drood” he gets to be another scene stealer as Nick Cricker the Second and Deputy, as does Michael Bradley as Nick Cricker and Durdles. The two together are like Laurel and Hardy, The Smother Brothers and such. They get a joke scene with Yocum early on that they do well and establishes who their characters are and what they bring to the musical: slapstick comedy.

Watching and listening Wednesday, I was thrilled for more of Leanne Antonio on the stage. She kicked ass as Rusty in “Footloose” where she got to lead on the ballad “Somebody’s Eyes,” which she owned. In “Drood,” Antonio gets to play Princess Puffer, the operator of an opium den, and she owns that role, too. Even better, Antonio sings on a number of songs that showcase her vocal talent, including “The Garden Path to Hell.”

Somehow, with all this amazing talent packed into one show, Evan Kinnane steals every scene he’s in as Bazzard. He was Davey in “Newsies,” but he’s so much better in his “Drood” role. Bazzard is a unique character and Kinnane might be the only person I’d ever want to play the role.

Guest choreographer for “Drood” was Joseph Nicastro, and he brought some fresh  moves to the Wagon Wheel stage. In “Ballet: Jasper’s Vision,” Jasper dances with gothic women with blood on their faces and it’s the stuff of nightmares, but also beautiful in its presentation. There’s also a couple of big group dances I loved, but the “Ballet” was my favorite. If I got to vote for Nicastro to return, I’d vote in the affirmative.

And, again, praise to Humrichouser for his amazing direction of the show. Time and time again, he’s shown how extraordinarily talented he is as a director and “Drood” is no exception. Bravo, Tony.

As for how Wednesday night’s voting went, the audience chose Bazzard as Datchery, Rosa as the murderer and for Helena and Durdles to fall in love. How will the rest of the shows go? Well, that’ll be up to the audiences, of course, but they’re going to have fun no matter what their final decisions are.

My rating of the show (out of four): 4.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs through July 8. Tickets are available at

An interview with Cotter and McFarland can be found online at the Times-Union website at