Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg, sat down with Director Scott Ellis to talk about his work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Ted Sod: Tell me how this production came together and why you wanted to direct it.
Scott Ellis: The idea of reviving The Mystery of Edwin Drood started a while ago when I was working with Rupert Holmes on the Broadway production of Curtains. He was a writer on that show and while we were talking about Curtains, Drood came up. I told him I fondly remembered it. I wondered why there hadn’t been a major revival of it. That’s how it began. I told Rupert that it seemed like the perfect time for a revival. We kept talking about it over the years and we finally got it scheduled for this season. We have looked at the scripts that were used for the Delacorte, Broadway and London productions, and we’re putting together a new version of the script and a song order that we want for this revival.
TS: What kind of research did you have to do in order to direct this show?
SE: We’ve done research on Dickens and his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The show takes place in a music hall in the 1800s, so we need to have a clear understanding of what was happening during that era in England. And the actors have to understand what it was like to be performing in a music hall at that period in time.
TS: Have you ever worked with Warren Carlyle, the choreographer, before?
SE: I’ve never collaborated with him on a theatre production before. I’ve known Warren for a very long time and love his work. The collaboration between the director and choreographer is most important in a musical. You really have to be on the same page. So far it’s been a really wonderful collaboration. He’s very creative.
TS: When you work with a choreographer, do you say, “I want this dance to feel like this” or do you let them go off and…
SE: I let them do what they do. We talk about the story, what the story is we’re trying to tell. It’s not about steps or my saying, “It should be like this or look like that.” It’s none of that. The choreographer needs to be very free to explore. We always talk about the sets, what’s going on in the story, what we have to work with, things like that. That’s what we’ve focused the most on so far. We’re very much involved with the sets and what they look like and what we’re doing visually because it’s going to be a huge part of how the choreography will ultimately manifest itself.
TS: Anna Louizos is designing the sets, and she’s remarkable. Can you talk about collaborating with her?
SE: It’s been an easy collaboration because we’ve worked together before. It’s always nice when you have a shared language with people. I’ve worked with all these designers before. We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s very clear that it takes place in a music hall. So we said, “Let’s create an old English music hall.” It’s a group of actors that are doing this show, so the sets dictate that. We’re not using any automation because at that time they didn’t have any. We thought, okay, if there’s no machinery per se, let’s try and do a lot of things with flats. A lot of things will be played downstage. We’re using a ton of drops because that’s what they used at that time.
TS: When you choose your musical director, what are you looking for?
SE: Someone I can work with and someone who I trust when they are working with actors. I first met Paul Gemignani when I was an actor and he was a musical director. We’ve done lots of shows together for the past twenty years. Paul and I have a shorthand. If an actor has a question about how to sing or interpret a song, Paul will know the answer. He is an expert at getting the best from each performer.