Leland whodunit leaves the ending up to you

May 4, 2017

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, his last novel, 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood,' was unfinished. All we know for certain is that the title character, Edwin Drood, mysteriously disappears.

A musical based on that story assumes Drood has been killed, and the students at Leland High School are performing it over the next two weekends.

'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' is a play within a play. The students play a troupe of actors in Victorian England who then portray characters in Dickens’ unfinished novel. The plot centers around finding out who killed Edwin Drood. 

“Tonight however, when we reach that point beyond which Charles Dickens wrote no more, I shall be asking you to vote upon key questions regarding the outcome of our plot,” recites Luke Klein during a rehearsal earlier this week.

In addition to picking the killer, the audience identifies the detective and two lovers. There’s an element of improv to the performance, and a lot of different combinations for the ending.

In 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood,' audience members vote to decide who the killer is, who the detective is, and what pair should end up together as lovers.
Credit Kim Klein

“So we gotta be really prepared," says senior Isaac Dedenbach. “A lot of different endings.”

And the students want to be those characters — they get more time in the spotlight and get to sing a song at the end of the show.

“They very much are going to be upstaging each other and trying to win the audience’s affection,” says Jeremy Evans, the theater director at Leland.

Evans says 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' is relatively unknown because it hasn’t been performed a whole lot. His fact, he’s never seen it performed; he’s just heard the music.

With the students portraying actors who play characters, he says it can seem complicated at first. But once you see it out, it’s pretty simple.

During the show, the audience picks the duo of lovers and detective by applause. To pick the killer however, the cast goes into the audience and tallies votes.

Once the results come in, students like Emmy Alflen have to remember what line comes next.

“There’s six men that they could pick me to fall in love with,” she explains. “So I have to memorize a little paragraph for each guy.” 

'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' runs May 4-6 and 11-13 at Leland High School. Click here for more information.