The Mystery of Edwin Drood

DroodOriginal Cast, 1986 (Polydor/Varèse Sarabande/Verve) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Composer-lyricist-Iibrettist Rupert Holmes folded a tribute to the English music hall into his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he came up with an intriguing musical whodunit. The original cast, as preserved here, is exemplary; it includes the great George Rose and the one-of-a-kind Cleo Laine, along with heavy-hitting Broadway pros Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour, Judy Kuhn, Donna Murphy, and belter extraordinaire Betty Buckley in the title role. “The Wages of Sin” is a specialty number delivered stylishly by Laine, and the haunting “Moonfall” is beautifully rendered by Cohenour. Other standouts are the boisterous opening number, “There You Are”; the breathless “Both Sides of the Coin”; the exciting “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead”; and the finale, “The Writing on the Wall.” This show’s peculiar distinction is that it allowed audiences to vote on how the plot should conclude. The two separate CD editions of the cast recording offer varying material in regard to those choices, and the Varèse reinstates “Ceylon” and the “Moonfall” quartet, which are not on the Polydor disc. But all of the tracks are available in mp3 format. — Matthew Murray

Broadway Cast, 2013 (DRG) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) This is one of the most exuberant cast albums out there. From the exhilarating opening address to the audience, “There You Are,” through to the final high-vaulted chords of “The Writing On the Wall,” there’s a palpable sense that the whole cast — and even the orchestra — are having endless fun scampering over the dexterously, densely written landscape of Rupert Holmes’ score. With The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Holmes proved himself a quadruple threat, having written the show’s music, book, lyrics, and orchestrations. Part of the infectious energy of this Broadway revival cast album comes from the way the cast leans into the show-within-a-show framework; they’re all portraying English music hall actors putting on a production of Drood, so everyone heightens but only slightly hams up their performances. And what performances they are: Will Chase as a terrifying John Jasper, chomping at the bit with lunacy and lust; Betsy Wolfe, adding an edge to the silver-voiced Rosa Bud; Jessie Mueller, stealing the show with delicious venom as Helena; the extraordinary Stephanie J. Block, whose belt has never been put to better use, leading the company in the title role. And even though Broadway icon Chita Rivera is given the score’s least compelling pair of songs, she shines with affectionate raunchiness as the madam, Princess Puffer. This Drood is at its best when the cast members team up for duets such as “Perfect Strangers” and “The Name of Love”/“Moonlight Reprise,” or ensemble moments in “No Good Can Come From Mad” and the stunning “Moonlight Quartet.” Departing from the 1986 recording, the revival album includes the rich instrumental “Opium Den Ballet” plus a new second act opener, “An English Music Hall,” and a freshly-conceived version of “Ceylon”/“A British Subject” that erupts into Holmes’ distinctively opulent counterpoint. (The music hall context lets Mueller and Andy Karl get away with caricatured accents that would otherwise come across as offensive). As for the show’s alternative endings, this album smartly reduces the Detective Datchery reveals to two tracks, keeps in all eight murderers’ confessions, and adds a clever album-only mashup of the possible pairs of lovers. A final note of praise is that the recording is gorgeously mixed; you can understand every word of Holmes’ tangly text, and individual instruments (especially in the reed section) feel like characters themselves. — Dan Rubins