Sunday, April 13, 2014

Friends of Edwin Drood

ALFRED: Were you one of the crowd who traveled to 1892 with the cast of T he Mystery of Edwin Drood last week? 
                Hundreds of people booed and hissed, laughed and chortled, clapped and whistled over the song, dance and antics on the stage. As part of the event, a small group played the background music to support all the Drood-tivity. May I introduce the members of the “fully trained orchestra?”
                Kyle Merrifield, percussion, said that his favorite part of high school was playing in pit orchestras for the annual musical. He didn’t expect that he’d be in a musical at AU so when Dr. Foster asked him to be part of Drood’s pit, he eagerly accepted.
                Kyle said that he’s not a singer or dancer so the pit suits him well. Drood, he said, is a particularly fun musical for a pit member because of the interaction between pit and actors.
                Kyle played several instruments but his grin widened when hammering away on the tympani for the thunder storm. (I can attest to his enthusiasm because my ears were inches away from the explosive barrage.)
                Pit members are often hidden but this pit was in front -able to see actors and audience. Kyle enjoyed the boisterous enthusiasm of Drood’s audience and felt more a part of this show than others.
                The most pit-experienced member was Eric Prentice, piano.  He’s not certain how many pit orchestras he’s played in - 50 to 60. Eric started playing piano in pits in Hornell while he was still in school and is employed as an accompanist by Hornell Schools. He has also played for every Hornell Rotary musical for the last 20 years and plays for the Hornell Community Theater too.
                In his opinion, Drood’s musical score was challenging and was made more so by being handwritten. Handwritten scores are onerous to read especially when pages are sprinkled with notes, lyrics and numerous key and time changes all to be mastered while following the conductor who follows vocalists. 
                The drum set work was done by Hunter Haddad, a skilled saxophonist who took brief instruction from Kyle about reading some specific percussion notation.  “I just looked at the music and it made sense,” he said.
                Hunter felt that the music was entertaining and that Drood was singular experience. He particularly liked how the actors went into the audience before each act. He felt satisfied with the performance of the pit saying, “I think we did well and I’m glad of it.”
                Similarly, Scott DeFranco Norton never before played the upright double bass. He was supposed to play electric bass but his instrument needed repair so thought he might substitute his main instrument, tuba. Instead, Dr. Foster suggested that he work out how to play the upright double bass.
                The double bass has no frets and is played with a bow which is to say, it’s not much like an electric bass but undeterred by what might be a stressful situation for some (most), Scott figured it out, often played by ear and just plain made it work.
                This was also Scott’s first experience in a pit orchestra. In high school, Scott performed on stage. Drood, he said, was the most interesting musical he’d been in or seen. “It was exciting to be a part of it.”
                Some other first time experiences belonged to Jay Horwath (trumpet, piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn).  Jay has never before been in a pit or played piccolo trumpet.
                The piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn have 4 values but Jay said those are for alternate fingerings. They can all be played with trumpet fingerings.
                “The piccolo trumpet,” he said, “looks small and seems like it should be easy but it’s not. It takes a different amount of air and has a different feel.”
                Jay found the audience participation in Drood exciting and enjoyed this first experience working with vocalists. He especially enjoyed the facial expressions that Darren Palmer put into the character of Bazzard.
                “Bazzard brings a lot of comic relief. While at times he seems not to fit, he gives the show fullness.”
                Peter Metz took time from research to play trombone for Drood. This was his second musical after doing Crazy for You in high school.  “The best way to sum up Drood is to call it a fun show.”
                While much of the show is amusing, a few of the scenes are dramatic and serious. One such is in the duet between the characters of Rosa and John Jasper. This was a highlight in the production for Peter.
                Brooke Tillotson speeds through her days with band, orchestra, dance, classes and work soshoe-horning in pit orchestra rehearsals wasn’t easy but she had a good time. She named Moonfall/The Name of Love as a favorite with Both Sides of the Coin as a close second.
                Chris Foster, conductor, said that he’d never heard of The Mystery of Edwin Drood until it was proposed for this semester. He was aware of the composer, Rupert Holmes, as author of Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and he came to appreciate the songs in Drood, a rollicking farce. The audience participation made it particularly fun.
                Drood was the first musical pit experience for Jasper Wright, bassoon. Jasper hadn’t realized how different it is to play for a musical. The score is handed out, there are a few rehearsals and then one works with the vocalists. In almost no time, the pit is in the production. For Jasper, Reverend Chrisparkle’s confession was always amusing.  
                Make note of these other performances at Alfred University. The Symphonic Orchestra –Friday, April 25, 7 pm; Jazz Band -Monday, April 28. 7:30; Symphonic Band - Friday, May 2, 7:30. All are scheduled for the Miller Performing Arts Center and are free and open to the public.

(Elaine Hardman played flute/piccolo in the pit.)

Photo Dr. Chris Foster, Kyle Merrifield (living dangerously), Jasper Wright, Eric Prentice, Peter Metz, Jay Horwath , Hunter Haddad, Brooke Tillotson, Scott DeFranco-Norton

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

ALFRED:  Many think that Charles Dickens intended to murder Edwin Drood and make clear the “who” of whodunit but Dickens died before the final episode of the work was published. Who dispatched Drood? Authors and playwrights started proposing endings in 1870 but Rupert Holmes dusted off the mystery in 1985, set it to music and created the first Broadway musical with multiple endings (determined by audience vote).      Holme’s Drood garnered 5 Tony Awards including best musical.
            The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be yours to judge at the Miller Performing Arts Center at Alfred University on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 10 -12 at 8pm. Tickets ($10 adults, $5 students and retirees) must be ordered by April 10. Call 871-2828 or go to .
                The costumes, characters, accents, dances and toe-tapping songs are all good reasons for you to reserve tickets. Here are few of the people you’ll find in the cast.

                Dana Harris grew up in Los Angeles and is now a senior studying theater. She plays the part of stage manager.  This is Dana’s first musical since playing Lucy in Snoopy in high school. She said that Drood is stressful but exciting.  
                The day we talked Dana was still sparkling from being added to the lovers’ scene at the end. Her character speaks in a Scottish accent. Most of her colleagues have added a British lilt but Dana thought she’d mix it up a bit my rolling her words through Scotland.
                To prepare, she watched Brave several times and spent time studying David Tennent in Dr. Who. She listened to accents, practiced her lines with their tones and recorded herself for evaluation.
                Dana is impressed with the many excellent accents developed for Drood and she enjoys watching and listening to the character of Jasper but her favorite part of the musical is the role of Reverend Crisparkle. 

                The part of Durddles is played by Danny Gray (a sophomore in The School of Art and Design, from Madison, Wisconsin). When asked what makes Drood fun, Danny said, “Every line I speak is a blast for me.”
                Danny came to Alfred because of ceramics but he fell into theater and, lucky for all, loved it. On the stage he found friends and fun so he has acted again and again with Drood as his fourth show. Prior to AU, he’d only had a small part in Cabaret in high school.
                Danny said that he thinks all the tunes are fantastic but when pressed for a favorite he chose “Moonfall Quartet”.
                 “It’s moving and amazing, a serious touch in an otherwise silly show.”        

                One of the actors in “Moonfall Quartet” is Rosa Budd, played by Jessica Antrobus (a senior studying English and communications, from Cleveland). Jessica brings Rosa to life with friendship, fear, disgust, anger and more than a dollop of charm.
                She cited “Moonfall Quartet” as one of the highlights of Drood also. She said that the harmonies are beautiful and that kinship among the women fills the song with support as well as emotion.
                This is Jessica’s fifth experience on the stage at AU but she’s performed in many settings since she was 10, picking up skills and learning to get into a character along the way.
                Jessica clearly enjoys the dance sequence in “Off to The Races” where the entire cast makes the stage sparkle with “happy.” She said that she’s not a dancer but dances well enough to get the moves.

            Another character is portrayed by Darren Palmer who came to Alfred from Wingdale, NY. Darren is now a senior in theater after choosing his major as a junior. Drood is his fifth production.
            Each of those productions was directed by a different person so each brought different information, instruction and experiences to the growing actors. Darren said that this exposure helped him grow as himself as well as an actor developing characters.
            In Drood, Darren transforms into Bazzard, a hunched and lurching form, clutching his masterpiece and rendering his face into the physical definition of creepy. Sometimes he sheds Bazzard’s unnerving cloak to inhabit Philip Bax (Drood is a play within a play). As Bax, Darren sings “Never the
the Luck” with the support of several cast members. This, he says, as with all the times when the entire ensemble is on stage, is a warm experience of mutual support and community.               

                Darren encourages you to experience live entertainment whenever you can. He noted how a live experience is solidly different from a film or CD. He said that in movies each clip is likely seconds long. A live performance demands extended concentration from both actors and audience.
                Call for your tickets now and be in the moment with the entire cast of Drood at Alfred University on April 10-12 - Thursday, Friday or Saturday.