In the bustling atmosphere of the Music Hall Royale, a raucous Victorian theatre company, the troupe’s Chairman welcomes the audience and introduces the cast (“There You Are”). Tonight, the Music Hall Royale will present Charles Dickens’ final story, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Because Dickens “ungenerously” died before finishing his novel, tonight the audience will be asked to “vote upon key questions regarding the outcome of our plot.” Therefore, the Chairman implores, everyone must pay close attention.
The Chairman then sets the scene: In Cloisterham Cathedral, troubled choirmaster John Jasper joyfully greets his beloved nephew Edwin Drood, played by the company’s resident male impersonator, Miss Alice Nutting (“Two Kinsmen”). Drood is engaged to the fair Miss Rosa Bud, Jasper's music pupil and the object of his mad obsession. In Rosa’s private music lesson, Jasper presents her with a new song, rife with forbidden passion and longing (“Moonfall”).
The kindly Reverend Crisparkle arrives, with two mysterious emigrants from Ceylon, Helena and Neville Landless. Neville is immediately attracted to Rosa, making him a romantic rival to both Edwin and Jasper.
The Chairman directs the audience’s attention to a new setting: in the East End of London, in her sinister opium den, the aging Princess Puffer reflects on the "Wages of Sin." Puffer attends to a hallucinating addict, revealed to be the choirmaster John Jasper! In a dreamy opium- and laudanum-induced ballet, Jasper sees himself murdering Drood. He wakens from the episode crying out for Rosa Bud. Puffer, taking note of Jasper’s outburst, collects her money and sees him off.
Back in Cloisterham, Neville and Drood meet and clash immediately (“A British Subject”). When an inebriated Music Hall actor fails to make his entrance, the Chairman steps into the supporting role of Mayor Sapsea. The Chairman, who now plays two roles, and Jasper, who lives a duplicitous life, celebrate life’s dual nature (“Both Sides of the Coin”). The Mayor meets up with Durdles, a drunken buffoon who works in the graveyard with the assistance of his young Deputy. After exchanging some classic Music Hall banter with the Mayor, Durdles reveals that Jasper recently asked to be shown the crypts. Later, as Jasper leaves the tomb, the Deputy discovers that some of his keys are missing.
Rosa and Drood, realizing their relationship is more familial than romantic, call off their engagement (“Perfect Strangers”). As a parting gift, Rosa gives Drood a hair clasp that once belonged to her mother.
On a stormy Christmas Eve, Jasper hosts a holiday dinner for Neville and Helena Landless, Reverend Crisparkle, Rosa, and Drood. Though the dinner was intended to foster reconciliation, it instead erupts into acrimony (“No Good Can Come From Bad”). Neville and Drood continue to spar, Crisparkle reveals that he once loved Rosa’s mother, who died shortly after the girl’s birth, and everyone senses an impending doom. Eventually, the party disbands and the guests depart into a violent storm.
The next morning, Rosa and Crisparkle realize that Drood has vanished. Crisparkle’s assistant, Bazzard, enters with Edwin’s bloodied coat, which he discovered by the River Weir. Phillip Bax, the Musical Hall actor playing the tiny part of Bazzard, breaks the action to lament his failure in landing a larger role (“Never The Luck”).
A group of outraged townspeople abduct Neville, who was the last person seen with Drood, accusing him of murder. Helena defends her brother, convincing the Mayor that, without a body, there can be no murder charge. Neville is released, and the Chairman reviews the situation: Edwin may be dead, and anyone onstage could be responsible. To lighten the mood, the entire company sings the Music Hall Royale’s rollicking signature song, “Off to the Races.”
Six months later, Drood’s disappearance remains unsolved. The Princess Puffer, who has been investigating the case, arrives in Cloisterham, alongside a mysteriously attired private detective named Dick Datchery, played by Miss Alice Nutting, the same actor who played Drood in Act One. The two sleuths pursue their leads separately (“A Private Investigation”).
Jasper, emboldened and transformed by his opium addiction, violently grabs Rosa and declares his love for her, but she bitterly rejects him (“The Name of Love/Moonfall Reprise”).
Puffer, who has overheard that conversation, revels in getting closer to the truth. She leads the entire company in a rousing number (“Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead”). The Chairman calls for an encore, and just as the company reaches the song’s climax, the music abruptly ceases and everything falls apart. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” the Chairman explains, “It was at this point in our story that Mr. Charles Dickens laid down his pen forever.”
Stopping the show, the Chairman guides the audience through a series of decisions: though Miss Alice Nutting portrayed both Drood and Datchery, Datchery was not actually Drood in disguise. The audience votes by applause to determine which character was in fact disguised as the detective Datchery. The chosen actor exits to prepare for the finale scene. Next, the Chairman reviews the cast of characters, and ensemble members go to separate sections of the audience, counting show-of-hand votes to determine tonight’s murderer (“A British Subject” Reprise).
The cast goes backstage to tally the votes, and the story resumes. Puffer admits that years ago, she had been Rosa’s beloved nanny, until an unscrupulous man led her down “The Garden Path To Hell.” She explains that, after hearing Jasper call Rosa’s name, she followed him and investigated, ultimately discovering the real identity of Dick Datchery (“Puffer’s Revelation”).
This evening’s Datchery (either Bazzard, Crisparkle, Helena, Neville, or Rosa) reveals this: while searching Jasper’s room, Datchery discovered the hair clasp that Rosa had given to Drood. Assuming Jasper took it from Drood’s dead body, Datchery now accuses Jasper of murder (“Out On A Limerick”). Angry townspeople drag Jasper in. Jasper confesses that, under the influence of laudanum-laced wine, he indeed strangled his nephew, Edwin Drood (“Jasper’s Confession”).
Durdles the gravedigger, however, interrupts to reject Jasper’s account. Durdles witnessed the crime and explains that Jasper placed Drood’s coat by the river to throw suspicion on Neville landless, but he did not kill Drood. But someone else did, depositing the body in the tomb of the Mayor’s late wife. The murderer is – depending on the audience's vote – Bazzard, Crisparkle, Helena, Neville, Puffer, Rosa, or Durdles himself. Revealing the motive and means, the murderer gleefully comes clean (“Murderer’s Confession”).
Insisting that “we are entitled to a happy ending,” the Chairman asks the audience to choose (by applause) two lovers, who passionately declare their love (“Perfect Strangers” Reprise).
Suddenly, Drood reappears! Apparently, on the night of the attack, he was merely stunned but not killed. Awakening in the crypt, he escaped and fled from Cloisterham (“The Writing on the Wall”). With the mystery thus solved, Edwin and the entire ensemble conclude the evening with lively chorus of “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.”
From Concord Theatricals