THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, Circle Theatre. It would be easy to hate Rupert Holmes's 1985 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's last, unfinished novel. A Broadway hit, the show tries hard to be all things to all people: a parody for those who don't take Dickens's stories seriously, an homage for those who do, a nostalgia trip for people with a fondness for old-fashioned theatrical traditions (operetta, British music hall, 19th-century melodrama), a gimmicky audience-participation show for those who like the fourth wall shattered. Throw in a touch of sex, a little violence, and enough tunes to fill a cast album and you have a work that in the wrong hands could be thoroughly annoying.
Even in the hands of a competent director like Kevin Bellie the show gets to be a little much, especially when Joel Sutliffe really hams it up as the villain. But most of the time Bellie and his ensemble of talented but still green singers, dancers, and actors approach Holmes's potentially over-the-top material with tact, talent, and respect, especially evident in Walter Tambor's intelligent musical direction of Holmes's gorgeous faux-Victorian songs. In fact this manipulative material might actually be improved by Circle Theatre's earnest non-Equity pluck, which gives the show an aura of good-hearted sincerity it might not have had in a more polished production with a bigger budget.