Does anyone remember the Weather Girls’ big disco hit entitled It’s Raining
Men? Well, these days in SoCal, it’s raining Droods, with productions of the
Rupert Holmes Broadway smash opened or opening just about everywhere.
The one that’s captured the most attention and already inspired a bunch of
deserved raves is the one currently wowing audiences at Sacred Fools. In the
words of The Weather Girls, “Hallelujah!”  

Director Douglas Clayton and his sensational cast, musicians, choreographer,
and design team have scaled down the Broadway sized show to fit Sacred
Fools’ intimate space with impressive results, although in fact, rather than
fitting the space, it would be more accurate to say that they fill it…to the
brim!  Master scenic designer Joel Daavid has literally surrounded the audience
with his Chinese influenced set, which includes a pair of box seats for audience
members, hanging lanterns, and curtained private sleeping berths, like on a
train. Speaking of surrounding the audience, when the entire ensemble joins to
sing one of Holmes’ rousing choruses, audience members experience live
surround sound as never before.  No matter where you sit, someone is sure to
be singing beside you and behind you.

Anyone seeing Drood for the first time will understand in an instant why it
became a long running Broadway hit, which has attracted countless
Droodheads, who seek out any Drood production, anywhere. There’s the
catchy score, which blends Broadway and the British music hall.  There are the
wonderfully Dickensian characters (this is after all Charles Dickens’ last
(unfinished) work).  There’s the knowing breaking of the third wall, as actors on
stage applaud each other’s entrances, interact with the audience, step in
and out of character, and decide suddenly to depart from the Dickens tale
and break into a rousing chorus of Off to the Races, a song which has
absolutely nothing to do with the Mystery of Edwin Drood.  (At one point, a
character tells us, “I’m sure we’ll have at least one reprise of this before we’re
through,” and we do.)  Finally, there’s the participation by the audience, who
are not only invited to join in the singing from time to time, but also must make
three major plot decisions, the results of which lead to an apparent 120
possible versions of the show. (Any one of a half-dozen cast members may end
up singing Out on a Limerick, depending on who is voted the “winner” by the
audience. The reprise of Perfect Strangers may be sung by a dozen or more
possible duos. Finally, there are seven different Murderer’s Confessions,
depending on whom the audience chooses.)

Though not all of the cast possess the vocal skills which distinguish the best of
them, this is a superbly talented (and raucous) ensemble.  They’re all clearly
having a ball on stage, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  Standouts include
(in alphabetical order) Chairman Barnes as a delightful Crisparkle, Joe Fria
stealing scenes right and left as a bug-eyed Neville Landless, Harmony
Goodman as a serpentine Helena with silent movie poses, Rachel Greene, a
beautiful Brit with West End credits and a gorgeous voice to match, Corey
Klemow as a supremely silly Buzzard, Jeffrey Markle staggering this way and
that as the drunken Durdles, Tim Thorn in a truly commanding performance as
the Chairman of a thousand puns, Natalie Taylor as an angelically voiced Rosa
Budd, and handsome Matthew Tyler channeling his inner cad as villainous
John Jasper. (Note: It’s a joy to hear Taylor’s soprano and Greene’s alto blend
in such rich harmonies when singing Perfect Strangers.)  Finally, this weekend’s
Princess Puffer is the lovely and very talented Lynn Odell, who rather than
“imitate the original,” makes the role wholly her own in a funny (she’s great
with the double entendres) and touching (e.g. her reconciliation with Rosa)

Kudos to director Clayton for his inventive staging, such as Drood and Jasper’s
escalating efforts to upstage each other in Two Kinsman. There’s a great
opium trip sequence, including Chinese dragon and masked players, all
bathed in an eerie green light.  Actors become part of the set design, holding
street lamps, portraits, and garden flowers. At one moment, a mini-chandelier
descends, a la Phantom in miniature; at another, the Chairman is suddenly
revealed to be kanoodling with a female cast member behind a curtained
berth. I’m told Clayton has been getting ready for this production for years,
and it shows.

Music director Bill Newlin’s five-piece band sounds great, and you won’t see a
bigger or better bunch of Dickensian costumes on an intimate theater stage
than Suzanne Klein’s for this production.  There’s not much room left on the
stage for dancing when everybody’s there, but choreographer John
Pennington has managed to fit in some high stepping numbers. Edward
Marks’ lighting is wonderfully mood-setting, from the moonlight which bathes
Taylor as she sings Moonfall, to the red-light-district crimson which adds a
sinister quality to Princess Puffer’s den of iniquity.

My StageSceneLA guest was musical theater buff Michael Landman-Karny,
who told me after the performance, “I have ‘saved myself’ to make my first
Drood production a memorable one—and I could not imagine a better
production—it was truly superb…” I concur wholeheartedly.

Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
     October 5, 2007

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