Stepping Out

Foothill lets audience choose how its mystery musical ends


David Allen/Special to the Town Crier
The cast of Foothill Music Theatre’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” includes Chloë Angst, clockwise from left, John Mannion, Brenna Sammon and Linda Piccone.

When the audience sits down to watch Foothill Music Theatre’s production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” – slated to open Feb. 27 – they won’t be the only ones who won’t know how it ends. The actors also will be in the dark, because the play has several possible endings.

“We rehearse eight different endings, and the audience votes three times throughout the show,” director Milissa Carey said. “We identify the characters by number. Then the ensemble members will go to their assigned part of the audience and take a tabulation for each of their sections. Sometimes the audience will choose the unlikely candidate, which makes the show more interesting.”

Along with deciding who killed Edwin Drood, the audience votes to determine the true identity of mysterious detective Dick Datchery.

“The third thing that happens is the audience votes for who should perform the love song for the happy ending, because we don’t want to end the musical, you know, identifying a murderer,” Carey said.

“Drood” is a play within a play based on the last unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. Rupert Holmes wrote the musical, which won five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. It’s the first Broadway musical with multiple endings.

“What drew me to it is not that it’s Dickens – although I love Dickens – it’s because it’s such a smart and interesting piece of musical theater,” Carey said. “It’s also that there’s this improvisational quality to it and the play-within-a-play concept is very fun.”

Carey has directed several shows in her 17 years at Foothill College, but this is her first time directing “Drood.” Her directing resume includes “The Sound of Music,” “Shrek the Musical” and “South Pacific.” She also has worked with the American Conservatory Theater, Broadway by the Bay, Los Altos Stage Company and more.

For “Drood,” Carey has assembled a cast that includes John Mannion (as The Chairman), Chloë Angst (Edwin Drood), Heather Orth (The Princess Puffer), Brenna Sammon (Rosa Bud), Ben Ball (John Jasper), Rachelle Abbey (Helena Landless), David Murphy (Neville Landless), Aaron Hurley (Reverend Crisparkle), Zach Goller (Bazzard), Linda Piccone (Durdles), Dan Cardenas (The Deputy) and Scott Solomon (Stage Manager Mr. James Throttle).

Angst also plays Alice Nutting, a well-known male impersonator, in “Drood.” Angst began acting at age 5 and has performed in Bay Area productions of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Secret Garden” and “Into the Woods,” among others.

“I played The Emcee in ‘Cabaret’ and Jekyll in ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ so I’m familiar with playing those types of roles,” said Angst, who also worked with Carey at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Angst played Helena Landless in a previous production of “Drood.”

“Because the language is very different from the way we typically speak, I have to figure out the intentions behind each line,” she said.

Set in 1892, the show begins in a London music hall, where a cast is staging a play titled “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” The musical features songs such as “Two Kinsmen,” “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead,” “The Garden Path to Hell” and “The Writing on the Wall.”

“The score is really good and unusual,” Carey said. “It has a quality that makes it sound like it’s old-fashioned, but it’s not – it’s very contemporary. And it requires you know really good musicians and really good singers.”

The actors are just one part of the process.

“Now that we’re in rehearsal, we do music first and we start going through staging while during the day there’s production stuff going on,” Carey said last month. “It’s a big machine, and we’re all working toward putting on a good show.”

“Drood” is set to run through March 15 in the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College, 12345 S. El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Shows are scheduled 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (with a 2 p.m. matinee added March 7) and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12-$36.

For tickets and more information, call 949-7360 or visit foothill.edu/theatre/productions/Drood.

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