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Theatre Raleigh kicks off Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy Theatre with a new adaption of Charles Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” written and composed by Rupert Holmes. Holmes has adapted the play for smaller theatres, and the scaled down, 90-minute version will debut in Raleigh May 11th through 22nd.
We asked Holmes to talk about the show, Pina Coladas and Charles Barkley singing his hit song.
What motivated you to adapt “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”?
I was haunted by a relatively obscure, unfinished novel by Charles Dickens about a handsome schizophrenic choirmaster who frequents the opium dens of London and is madly in love with his beautiful music pupil Rosa Bud, a young woman betrothed to the choirmaster’s devoted nephew Edwin Drood, whom the schizophrenic choirmaster wishes to murder. I felt the novel could make an intriguing musical…or an episode of “The Real Choirmasters of Sussex County”. Small problem: Mr. Dickens died halfway through writing the novel.
So you had to get creative with the ending. Where did you get the idea to have the audience vote on it?
While I was wondering if I dared to create an ending that Charles Dickens didn’t live to write, it suddenly dawned on me that the most outrageously and richly theatrical way to conclude the story would be to structure the musical so that the audience could vote on several key questions [and] a new ending could be performed at every performance. It was also the perfect antidote to the dreaded “spoiler”.
You’ve streamlined your original version into a one-act show.
We’re doing it the way I originally conceived it, in the cozy, intimate setting of an English music hall “pub” where there are all stars and no ensemble. The audience is warmly regarded as “regulars,” like the gang at “Cheers.”
What’s your favorite ending?
There are eight possible murder suspects at each performance but there are actually 960 combinations, including many I’ve still never seen after all these years! As for my favorite, that depends a lot on the mood I’m in and the performers I’m watching. Some are serious and surprising, others simply hilarious.
What is your favorite part of the production?
I’m incredibly proud that two of the most personally meaningful songs for me in the show are sung by two such bright Broadway lights as Sally Mayes and Raleigh’s own Lauren Kennedy. But I suppose my very favorite moments in Edwin Drood are when, as invariably happens, the audience becomes a kind of runaway jury and starts to make mischievous, even devilish decisions about the ending.
I’ve loved “Escape” (The Pina Colada Song) for years! Is it inspired by a real life experience?
The question I’m asked most often is, “Did that song really happen to you?” and people dearly want me to say “yes.” I hate disappointing anyone so let me confirm that, yes, it did happen to me. Most of my songs are inspired by real-life situations not only in my own life but what I’ll observe at airports, in restaurants, or at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, and imagining “What if?” or “If only…” which often becomes a song, a play or pages in a book.
Do you drink Pina Coladas?
I’d never actually tasted one until after the song became a hit. Of course, once it went to #1 everyone in the world thought they were the first person to buy me a Pina Colada. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so there was a three-year period where I tasted more Pina Coladas than Jimmy Buffett has slurped Margaritas.
Have you seen the ESPN Capitol One commercial with Charles Barkley singing Pina Colada?
I was damn pleased to see three guys who are as cool as anybody on the planet [basketball legend Charles Barkley, director Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson] singing my song together on a road trip. And it’s fantastic that for once Capitol One owes me money instead of the other way around.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
For most of my life, whenever I meet or work with a person—man or woman—who’s gracious, extremely intelligent and charming, and I ask them where they were born or grew up or went to school, it seems more than half the time they tell me Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham or Duke. I don’t know what it is about this part of the country, but many of the best people I’ve known, who have so affected my work and my life, [have lived within] a 50-mile radius of where we’ll be premiering the Theatre Raleigh “Mystery of Edwin Drood,” making this production all the more meaningful to me.
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