A mystery in time for Christmas - Jim Norton in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” on Broadway
Cahir O'Doherty reviews revival of the 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Irish actor Jim Norton is a national treasure who would probably balk at the description. Best known to the Irish for his luminous performances in the plays of Dublin playwright Conor McPherson and as Bishop Brennan in Father Ted, he’s long ago been discovered by Broadway producers as the go-to talent to carry a show.
That’s exactly what he does in the revival of the 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood now at the Roundabout Theatre, which is loosely based on the final book by Charles Dickens, the one he unhappily died without completing in 1870 (leaving the audience to decide who the killer is).
Norton is on stage from the opening moment to the final curtain, and it’s his variety performance skills that lift the production to the next level.
Gifted with a rich baritone that conveys his inner emotions and the droll sense of fun that often animates him, Norton is a revelation as The Chairman, the master of ceremonies who oversees the production and explains to the audience what’s at stake.
The Chairman introduces us to a series of likely villains, all of them rogues with motives for wanting Drood dead. First up is the choirmaster with the Jekyll and Hyde personality, John Jasper. Jasper has a secret passion for Rosa Budd (the names in this book are not subtle).
Problem is, Rosa Bud is engaged to be betrothed to his nephew Edwin Drood. So there’s your motive, governor.
The next potential killer is Reverend Crisparkle, who had a passion for Rosa’s late mother and now may have murdered Drood in a case of mistaken identity. Other equally oddly named characters with murder on their mind include Neville Landless, Princess Puffer, Bazzard and Durdles.
It quickly becomes clear that it doesn’t matter that Drood is dead and it certainly doesn’t matter who killed him. The musical is an excuse for a series of song and dance numbers that only want to delight you.
“I always seem to end up in these parts where I’m told, ‘You’re the engine of this play,’” Norton, 74, tells the Irish Voice. “You just have to get out there and drive it. But it’s really exciting.”
The legendary Studio 54, which before it was the home of disco was once (and is again now) a gorgeous 19th century theater, makes a perfect home for Dickens’ tale of intrigue and murder. But it wasn’t the only attraction that drew Norton to the production.
“Warren Carlyle, the choreographer on the show, previously directed me in Finian’s Rainbow on Broadway and that was a very important element in my saying yes. I was just so flattered to be asked. They just rang me up out of the blue,” said Norton.
Norton’s being too modest. He shares the stage with Broadway royalty Chita Rivera, and the truth is he has long ago become Broadway royalty himself.
“I’m not known as a singer and a dancer, except in the way that all Irish people can sing and dance,” he laughs.
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