Solving the mystery of Edwin Drood

The St. Paul Conservatory does a fascinating “J term” experiment. They audition the students, cast them and then give them thirteen days to put on a production. I was told by the staff that the focus is on the process, not the production itself. It is more of a workshop for the students to learn how to act in a professional environment. There are 550 students who work on 23 projects in 14 venues across the Twin Cities. They range from dance, puppetry, musical theater, concerts and plays. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch one show this time around but it was a well done piece so it will have to tide me over until next year!

On Wednesday night I headed to the Lehr Theater in St. Paul to see “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. This was Charles Dickens final novel and was never finished due to his untimely death. The story is set in a small town in England. It follows not only Edwin, but his Uncle, John Jasper the choir master, who is in love with his student Rosa Bud. She is betrothed to Edwin though so there is tension. We also meet Neville and Helena (a brother and sister duo) who have just arrived from Ceylon. There are many other peculiar players such as the woman who runs the opium den, the Reverend, two grave diggers and so forth. The show is a hodge podge of sorts and is very interactive. The cast speaks to the audience and we even get to choose the outcome of the play during the second act. I highly enjoyed it.

Angela Steele who played Edwin Drood was a gem. She sparkled in the light and did a wonderful job with her role. It was obvious she was a natural born performer. Andrew Tamarkin who played Neville was a great character actor. He got the audience to laugh a lot and embodied the role of the esteemed foreigner. His shoes made me giggle. The toes twirled around at the end and he walked with a cane. His sister, Helena, played by Alexandra Nedved was strikingly beautiful. They played off each other well. Noah Sullivan took on the role of Bazzard. He was the guy who hardly has any lines and is waiting in the wings for his big moment to shine. His portrayal cracked me up and I thoughroughly enjoyed his scenes.

A lone piano off to the side of the stage was the primary instrument. There were a few songs that a girl from the cast joined and played the violin. It was very minimal but rightfully so. It helped keep the focus on the cast. Musical director, Joey Clark, teaches at the school and performs locally. He is currently in Bloomington Civic Theatre’s “Cabaret” playing the leading role of Emcee. I appreciate that many of the staff at the St. Paul Conservatory are in the business as well. It gives the kids a chance to learn from professionals.

The costumes especially stood out to me. They were very colorful and over the top. The opium den girls wore bodices and frilly tutu’s. The men wore suits, coats and had top hats. Many ensemble girls wore pretty, floor length dresses and had their hair curled.

For a high school production thrown together in less than two weeks, it was superb! I would love to see it done professionally someday. To learn more about the St. Paul Conservatory take a look at their website: http://spcpa.org/

*Photos credit: Steven Hong

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