The Mystery of Edwin Drood

This is the fun kind of theatre: a totally bawdy, raucous, cheeky and tart musical, filled with the most wonderful awful puns. It's a show within a show (adapted as a choose your own theatre adventure venture from the eponymous, unfinished final Charles Dickens novel) whose plot-related intrigue is almost secondary to the fun divertissements sprinkled throughout the show.

When you walk into Studio 54 in Manhattan, you're really walking into the Music Hall Royale in London, where the troupe of players mingle throughout the audience and get the party started. Then the Chairman (Jim Norton) enters and calls the show to order. Our guide throughout, the Chairman tells us about Dickens's novel and what's to be expected of us - the audience - as the show within the show (that would be The Mystery of Edwin Drood) unfolds. Convoluted love triangles (with the gender-bending casting of Stephanie J. Block's Miss Alice Nutting as Edwin Drood adding to the fun), politically incorrect characters and an opium den madame (a delightfully spry and wry Chita Rivera) abound as we figure out whodunnit.

Nevermind the plot, though (I tuned in and out here and there, particularly during some of the character-building ballads); there's so much hamming it up and scenery chewing going on that you'd be a fool to get caught up in the details.

Jim Norton (Port Authority, Finian's Rainbow) is the cutest, sweetest, zaniest old man. You just want to carry him around in your pocket. Stephanie J. Block (By the Way, Meet Vera Stark) is terrifically campy. Betsy Wolfe (Merrily We Roll Along) sings her heart out with her chest out (much to the particular delight of one not-so-gentle man sitting in the first row). Jessie Mueller (On a Clear Day...) isn't given a lot to do but she does it all well. And Chita Rivera is a legend.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a true ensemble piece, with all the players, not just the bold-faced names, contributing to the fun. (Kudos to the intrepid bit players who interact with the audience before the show and during the all-important vote.) The substance of the show, written by Rupert Holmes, is fine, but under the direction of Scott Ellis, it's nothing compared to the presentation and spirit.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood continues its run at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 through February 10, 2013. Visit Roundabout's website for more information and to purchase tickets. (Under 35? Visit Hip Tix to purchase $20 tickets.)

Headshots and production still are from Roundabout's website.