Foothill Music Theatre takes its audience back to the 1890s when music halls were a major source of entertainment in England.
The result is an entertaining evening of theater with FMT’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
Rupert Holmes, who wrote the music, lyrics and book, based this musical on a novel by Charles Dickens, who died before completing it.
Instead, Holmes asks the audience to decide some key questions.
Under the astute direction of Milissa Carey, this excellent cast of students and seasoned performers creates a mix of characters from the ingénue to a gravedigger, opium den operator and some seemingly more respectable people whose actions come under suspicion.
Before the show starts, the costumed actors mingle with and chat with the audience. All of them implore the audience to boo John Jasper (Benjamin Ball), whenever he appears.
Scenes and characters are introduced by the Chairman (John Mannion).
Jasper is the uncle of the title character, played by a woman, Chloë Angst, as called for in Holmes’ script. Jasper also is the music teacher secretly in love with the lovely Rosa Bud (Brenna Sammon), who’s engaged to Edwin.
Rosa, an orphan, is under the care of the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle (Aaron Hurley). Soon he welcomes an exotic brother and sister from Ceylon, Helena (Rachelle Abbey) and Neville (David Murphy) Landless. The volatile Neville is immediately smitten by Rosa.
Completing the cast of principals is Heather Orth as Princess Puffer, a fallen woman who runs the opium den frequented by Jasper; and Linda Piccone as Durdles, a drunken gravedigger.
When Edwin disappears while on a Christmas Eve walk, suspicion falls on Neville, who was with Edwin. However, when Edwin hasn’t turned up after six months, others are suspected.
In the meantime, several people investigate his disappearance. They include the mysterious Dick Datchery, whose real identity is apparently unknown.
It’s up to the audience to vote on who among seven suspects is the culprit in Drood’s disappearance, as well as the identity of Datchery and the ideal romantic couple.
The ending varies according to the votes, so the actors must be prepared for several contingencies, but not as many as one might think at first.
All of the principals sing well, especially Angst as Edwin, Sammon as Rosa and Orth as Princess Puffer.
The entire large cast is energetic and engaging, seeming to enjoy everything as much as the audience does.
Aiding in the production’s success is the small orchestra led by music director Amanda Ku. Julie Engelbrecht’s period costumes are especially impressive.
Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” isn’t great theater, but this production sure is great fun.
It will continue through March 15 in Foothill College’s Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.
For tickets and information call (650) 949-7360 or visit foothill.edu/theatre.