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Stage Notes presenting “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

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Ticia K. Marra received help from an expert for her Stage Notes production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

The expert, Rupert Holmes, wrote the musical.

“He’s just been gracious and wonderful in sharing ideas about the show,” Ms. Marra said.

When Stage Notes presents “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Thursday, Friday and next Saturday at Jefferson Community College, it will have tweaks made for the Watertown performance by the man who wrote the book and score.

The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1985, where it ran for two years and received five Tony Awards in 1986, including Tonys for best musical book and score, and for best musical.

The show was revived in November on Broadway. It ran for 136 performances before closing in March.

It was on Broadway where Ms. Marra met Mr. Holmes in March. She and her associate director, Kyle D. Aumell, and some Stage Notes performers traveled to New York City to tour Broadway theaters and to see “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

The group met some of the show’s cast members and had a question-and-answer session with them. When they went to see a matinee production of “Edwin Drood,” Mr. Holmes happened to be in attendance.

Mrs. Marra and Mr. Aumell talked to the playwright during intermission. Ms. Marra told Mr. Holmes that her Stage Notes group was going to perform “Edwin Drood,” which will be a benefit for the Watertown Urban Mission.

“He gave us his email and said, ‘Contact me, and if you have any questions, I’ll help you with the show,’” Ms. Marra said.

But what Mr. Holmes did next surprised Ms. Marra even more.

“When the show was over and we were having the talk-back session with the cast, he came in, sat down on stage and talked to all the kids,” Ms. Marra said. “It was incredible.”

She took him up on his offer to contact him during the runup to her local production.

“We’ve gone back and forth by email several times,” Ms. Marra said. “He shared with us the script for the new Broadway production. It’s a revival, so they changed things. We really wanted to do what we saw.”

Ms. Marra noted that the licensing agency for “Edwin Drood,” Tams-Witmark, doesn’t have the latest script. So Mr. Holmes provided the changes to the group.

“It’s been a super experience the way he’s been so open to an amateur group doing the show,” Ms. Marra said.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, deals with John Jasper, a “Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster” who is in love with his music student, Miss Rosa Bud. But she is engaged to Mr. Jasper’s nephew, Edwin Drood. The title character disappears mysteriously one stormy Christmas Eve. People assume he’s been murdered.

The humorous musical is a whodunit, with audience members voting to decide who the killer is.

The musical also is a show within a show. Its characters are performers at London’s Music Hall Royale putting on the musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

“The music has sort of a music hall feel,” Ms. Marra said. “It’s a bit rowdy at times and fun. It sounds so serious because it’s a mystery, but it’s funny and fun.”

Ms. Marra formed Stage Notes, a theatrical production company for youth, in 2009. Its members will be challenged each evening when the audience votes, by show of hands, on who the killer is. The show changes depending on who is picked as the killer.

“As soon as I read the script, I knew it would challenge all of our students beyond whatever they’ve been challenged before,” Ms. Marra said. “The challenge it brings to professional actors is incredible and to make these kids do it really pushes them.”

Ms. Marra called upon local community theater veteran Dan Davis to play Mr. Jasper, the choirmaster. His character has several long monologues.

“I’ve got one spot where it’s me talking for 10 pages,” Mr. Davis said. “It took a while for me to learn.”

Mr. Davis said the show has quickly become one of his favorites.

“It’s got such twists and turns to it,” he said. “It has a detective, a murderer, lovers — and it’s different every night. You don’t know who is going to do what lines with who.”

Despite those challenges for the actors, Mr. Davis said they bring benefits for audiences.

“They could come every night and see a different ending with different songs and lines.”

The details
WHAT: Stage Notes presents the Rupert Holmes musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” to benefit the Watertown Urban Mission.
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and next Saturday at Sturtz Theater at Jefferson Community College.
COST: Tickets are $15, or $12 for senior citizens and children age 12 and under. Advance tickets are available at the Watertown Urban Mission, 247 Factory St., and at the Sturtz Theater lobby at JCC from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
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