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Theatre / Drood

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Drood, originally entitled The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is a 1985 musical comedy with music, lyrics, book, and orchestrations by Rupert Holmes, based on the unfinished novel of the same name by Charles Dickens. Because the source material was a murder mystery with an unfinished ending, the musical determines the ending each night by Audience Participation. The show uses the framing device of being a Show Within a Show, performed each night by supposed members of a Victorian music hall—which were popular around the time of Dickens' death—and is hosted by the Chairman, William Cartwright, who narrates the proceedings, plays one of the minor roles himself, and conducts the polling process by which the identity the titular character's murderer is decided. In addition, the audience also votes on which character turns out to be the mysterious detective Dick Datchery, and which two characters fall (sometimes suddenly) in love for the finale.


The original production won five Tony awards, and featured George Rose as the Chairman, Howard McGillin as the music hall's leading man and portrayer of John Jasper, and Betty Buckley as the guest artist and "male impersonator" playing Edwin Drood.

This musical provides examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Played with, as the musical in question is technically adapting an unfinished work.
  • Audience Participation: Encouraged at multiple points, and vital to selecting which of the Multiple Endings the cast goes with.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: If Rosa Bud, Crisparkle, or Bazzard gets elected murderer.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: This show being what it is, the fourth wall is pretty much a pile of dust and plaster all throughout the libretto, but most of the songs keep to themselves if they're purely Dickens-focused (as opposed to Music Hall Royale crowd-pleasers). Not so Durdles' confession, in which he comes right out and confronts the audience with their far-fetched choice: "But I'm the candidate you rowdy lot have chose / And so my motives now I fear I must disclose..."
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  • Brother–Sister Incest: Is actually one of the possible pairings, since Neville and Helena Landless are both available in the pool of choices for Lovers unless one of them was voted the murderer. The actors traditionally keep as far apart as possible and give the audience a lecture about how sick they are. However, it's become a favorite gag in certain productions that the two can only maintain this moral high ground until they actually kiss, at which point they drop all compunction and go at it with gusto. Bear in mind that there are two levels of characters here, the Drood characters and the Victorian music-hall troupe portraying them. The twins' Victorian actors, Victor Grinstead (Neville) and Janet Conover (Helena) obviously aren't related, so the inevitable sloppy makeouts can be attributed to Victor and Janet dropping character like a hot potato.
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  • The Butler Did It: If Bazzard is elected murderer. Really he's Crisparkle's assistant (though his Victorian actor Philip Bax also has a walk-on role as the waiter during "No Good Can Come From Bad"), but the trope is still in full effect: Bazzard's appeal as a candidate for selection is that his role is so minor, he's easy to overlook.
  • Cast as a Mask: The same actress plays both Drood and the initial Dick Datchery, because, in-universe, she's contracted to appear in both acts. However, the "actors" always vote that Drood is in fact really dead, so they can't actually be the same person by the end of the act.
  • Chekhov's Gun / Red Herring: "Here, Ned, take my CAPED COAT." Could be an example of either, because half of the murderers did it because they mistook Drood for Jasper.
  • Clear My Name: Neville's motivation if he's Datchery.
  • Crosscast Role: In a reference to Victorian theater, a "male impersonator" plays Drood.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The cast raises and discusses the possibility that Drood is, for whatever reason, Not Quite Dead. However, it is always the question the "actors" themselves get to vote on, and they always vote that he's dead because his actress is an obnoxious prima-donna, and she storms out in a huff. Out-of-universe, this is a way to keep the Multiple Endings at manageable levels.
  • Dark Reprise: The solo "Moonfall" is a damn creepy song as is, but the whole thing goes even darker and over-the-top in the reprise during "The Name of Love".
    • Each murderer's confession also reprises at least one earlier number. Granted, some of the reprised songs ("A Man Could Go Quite Mad", "A British Subject", "No Good Can Come From Bad") were dark enough to begin with, but you can't beat the Lyrical Dissonance of hearing Bazzard confess to strangling Drood as a reprise of the dreamy waltzing melody of his signature "Never the Luck", or hearing Durdles jauntily recount how he bludgeoned Drood to death in a drunken frenzy while the orchestra kicks up one more refrain of that Music Hall Royale favorite, "Off to the Races".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Neville and Helena face much racism from the English people, though they also have an entire song calling it out. The In-Universe musical performance takes place around the early 1900's, so the characters aren't written quite tastefully, with Helena lampshading how her accent is "geographically implacable" and their In-Universe actors usually being white people in brownface.
  • Detective Mole: If Bazzard is elected murderer. His opening lines sum it up perfectly: "I saw the chance to be a legend in my time / For all in town thought Neville might do violent crime / To solve a myst'ry would pluck me from off my shelf / So I ensured the crime by killing Drood myself!"
  • Disney Death: Drood turns out to be okay regardless of murderer, but this trope really gets zigzagged with Durdles' confession. First Durdles witnesses Jasper dragging Drood's body into the crypt. A distraught Durdles pours himself a few cups in Drood's memory. Then Drood, who had only been struck unconscious by Jasper, miraculously emerges from the crypt. The very drunk and terrified Durdles is convinced this is a ghost... and so immediately sets about killing him again! Only in this ending does Drood get "murdered" and "resurrected" twice over.
    • This confession's lyrics has the actor playing Durdles admit that it's stupid but he's trying to improvise as he didn't expect to be the murderer.
  • Double Entendre: Moonfall is filled to the brim with this; Rosa is essentially singing about having sex with John Jasper (which is why she is reluctant to sing it.)
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "The Writing on the Wall"
  • Framing Device: The audience isn't just watching a production of the play, Drood, but also the actors in a Victorian music hall performing the production. This leads to some interesting moments when the "actors" break character.
  • Gainax Ending: The final musical number of the night is always the same, and it completely contradicts the established events of the play and the Framing Device. But, it is still happy and upbeat, so there's that.
  • Gender Bender: Drood, a male character, is traditionally played by a female actor. Just because. They do not try to hide it at all.
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: The two characters who get voted to sing the duet often haven't talked to one another the whole show.
  • "I Am" Song:
    • "A Man Could Go Quite Mad" for Jasper
    • "The Wages of Sin" for Princess Puffer
    • "Two Kinsmen" and "Ceylon"/"A British Subject" count as We Are Songs for Jasper & Drood and Neville & Helena, respectively. You could also say "Ceylon" is simultaneously Drood's "I Want" Song.
  • I Didn't Mean to Kill Him: In the revised version of the show, this is Helena's rather feeble excuse during her confession ("I meant no violence that Christmas morn / I meant to silence this Edwin's scorn"; "I meant to gag him / But I did snag him / So I did drag him off to hell"). But the rest of the song makes it amply clear she feels no remorse for his death at all and might very well have had lethal intent all along, no matter what she says otherwise.
  • If I Can't Have You...: Not a direct motive for any murderer (only Rosa is romantically interested in Drood), but in the original version of Crisparkle's confession, he claims that he killed Rosa's mother as well in the past: "Newlywed was she / Thus dead to me / I tossed her out to sea..." Crisparkle might just be crazy (note he only says "I think I killed another"), but if this is true, Crisparkle is the only would-be murderer who actually finishes the show with a kill count (since Drood always comes back). Beware the Nice Ones indeed.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Some of Durdles' jokes—and it's even funnier that way.
  • The Ingenue: Rosa is the female one, Drood is the male one. Hey, but wait a second...
  • Innocent Soprano: Rosa is an otherwise straightforward ingenue soprano, being an innocent young woman smitten with Drood. However, the show is Meta Fiction about actors performing an unfinished story, and the audience can choose the murderer — and Rosa is one of the options. If she is selected, she subverts the trope by faking her Purity Personified personality to conceal her intention to murder John Jasper.
  • Insult Backfire: "You're next to an idiot!" "Why so I am! Pleased to meet you!"
  • Interactive Narrator: The Chairman, as part of the Show Within a Show conceit.
  • Knight Templar Twin Sister: Helena, per both her confessions in either version of the show. Regardless of whether she intended to kill Jasper ("Thought you I'd idly wait while Neville you'd torment?") or Drood ("I'd kill another, to save my brother / I did it well..."), her main goal is to protect her brother and she will most certainly stuff a few bodies in the fridge if that's what it takes.
  • Large Ham: Nick Cricker, the actor playing Durdles, although any of the actors can be played this way.
    • John Jasper, especially when he's close to mad.
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: Performed once we reach the point in the story where "Charles Dickens laid down his pen forever."
  • Love Triangle:
    • Jasper/Rosa/Drood
    • Neville/Rosa/Drood
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "No Good Can Come From Bad", a fugue which introduces a separate musical motif for each of the singers. In the original version, each of those motifs is subsequently reprised in the appropriate character's murder confession. In the eventual licensed version, only Rosa's confession remains intact.
  • Meaningful Name: How appropriate that the show-within-a-show's fishes out of water are named Landless.
  • Motive Rant: Naturally, each of the confessions is a musical version of this. (Though it's comically avoided by Durdles, who himself recognizes how baffling it would be for him to have any prior motive to murder Drood, and outright breaks the fourth wall to declare that he's only a murderer because the audience voted him so.)
  • Multiple Endings: Selected by audience participation. Then subverted: after an entire series of choices made by the audience, the final ending is always the same.
  • Murder by Mistake: The original version of the show goes overboard with this: of the six suspects besides Jasper, four of them turn out to have meant to kill Jasper instead, and only took out Drood by mistake because he was wearing Jasper's coat and, look, it was dark and storming, okay? These are Rosa, Puffer, Crisparkle, and Helena. (If you listen to the original recording, get ready to hear a lot of "I meant to murder you!") The revised version of the show finds new motives for Crisparkle and Helena (and adds Durdles), leaving just Rosa and Puffer holding up this trope on their own; a healthier ratio.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Predictably, this is the motivation revealed by Jasper and Neville in their confessions, since both are infatuated with Rosa and despise her fiancee Drood. Less predictably, it's also Crisparkle's motivation in the revised version of the show, in a more indirect way: the woman he truly loves is Rosa's deceased mother, but the insane cleric can no longer meaningfully distinguish between Rosa and her mother and so develops a murderous grudge against Drood.
  • Not Quite Dead: Discussed by the cast, but dismissed as a possibility. Not for any reasons of undermining drama or fidelity to the information in the text, mind, but because Drood's actress is an insufferable prima donna, and they want to take her down a peg by voting her dead with the one decision they get to make. Then, in the Gainax Ending, Drood turns out to be fine.
  • Odd Couple: Almost all of the possible pairings.
  • Patter Song: "Both Sides of the Coin"
  • Postmodernism: The play is a play-within-a-play with a Framing Device involving a period music hall whose cast strangely mirrors their characters in many ways, features frequent digressions and discussions about the source material and its occasional faults and flaws as a story, and puts most of the outcome in the hands of the audience. Then, it finally concludes with a bizarre but happy ending that flies in the face of the events of both the play and the play-within-a-play.
  • Show Within a Show: The show is a performance of musical version of the novel by the players of a Victorian music hall, and many of their conventions are employed in the story.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: When the show starts, the cast doesn't know how it will end.
  • Split Personality: John Jasper.
  • Stalker with a Crush: John Jasper, again.
  • Two-Headed Coin: Gets its own song to lampshade how everyone is playing two roles.
  • Villain Song: The confessions.
  • You Bastard!: If the audience chooses for Neville and Helena to become a couple at the end of the show, the twins literally call them depraved and "you wicked bastards!!!".


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