It all began in 1870, when Charles Dickens dropped dead in the middle of writing his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Over the years there have been several novels, and a surprising number of movies, attempting to finish what Dickens started and provide the who in "whodunnit."
Certainly the most ambitious is the 1985 musical with book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, the guy who wrote "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)." And it is his Mystery of Edwin Drood that's now on offer from Stage 62.
One of the show's gimmicks is that the audience votes on the killer's identity -- and Holmes has written different endings for each outcome. The audience also decides who falls in love at the end, and again, Holmes has written songs and dialogue to cover all the possible choices.
The show's other conceit is to perform the musical within another musical: We're meant to be a Victorian audience at the Musical Hall Royale watching a performance of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
That's a lot going on, so it's curious that the evening feels as uninvolving as it does. A big reason may be Dickens himself. I don't want to say he figured dying would be easier than finishing the book, but believe me, the fact that it's incomplete is its only distinguishing characteristic.
Holmes has a hand in it as well. He's written a ton of music, and while much of it is pleasant, none of it is remarkable. The audience-voting gimmick may seem cute on paper, but in practice merely turns the show's last 20 minutes into a PowerPoint presentation.
If nothing else, the Stage 62 production is lavishly outfitted with a remarkably handsome set and eye-popping costumes from Michael Van Newkirk. There's a bunch of great voices at work, including Sean Lenhart, Valerie Quayle and (as always) Becki Toth. And there's a lot of fun in the supporting performances of Ryan Kearney, Rob James and Tonilyn Longo -- and great physicality from the dance ensemble.
But I'm not sure why director Carl Hunt and music director Steve Baldanzi decided to slow the show to a crawl. There's absolutely nothing about Drood which should keep us in the theater for nearly three hours. The tempos are slow and the pace of the book scenes interminable.
Really, if you take this show fast enough, we might not notice how empty it is.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood continues through Nov. 20. Stage 62 at Andrew Carnegie Free Library Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-429-6262 or www.stage62.com