ON THE RECORD: The Broadway Revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Plus Early Chita Rivera

By Steven Suskin
17 Feb 2013

Chita Rivera in the current revival.
Photo by Joan Marcus

It is patently unfair to expect present-day performers to measure up to old-time memories, and it is even more invalid to ask playgoers to compare a present-day production to one that closed when they were in elementary school or maybe even unborn. So be it. Present day audiences can compare the performances on the new revival cast album CD — which is the subject of this column, by the way — to the original cast album. (The 1985 recording was for many years difficult to find, but was reissued last fall on CD by Verve.)

My guess, though, is that it is not the performances in the revival — or the staging, or simple overfamiliarity — that caused the new Drood to diminish before my ears. It is the score, and I can thank the new CD for helping clarify this. Mr. Holmes did a neat job of turning Dickens into a contemporary Broadway musical circa 1985, and he was justly rewarded. But the strength of Drood, for me, always fell to a handful of numbers: "Moonfall," "Both Sides of the Coin," "Off to the Races," and "Don't Quit While You're Ahead." Those were the highlights when at the Delacorte, the Imperial, and now at Studio 54. Most of the other songs seem to belong in the merely-functional range, offering lots of bounce and a good deal of flavor but not all that much more.

This didn't bother me much in 1985, when Leach and Daniele were pulling the strings (and when Cohenor, McGillin, Laine, Buckley and especially Mr. Rose were chewing on each word like savory pasties). At the Roundabout, though, the secondary songs seem to have thoroughly lost their bite; once we get the point — which usually happens pretty quickly — I'm ready to move on. The new CD, I'm afraid, makes this exceedingly clear. After two hearings, I was more than ready to quickly skip through to the handful of favorites.



This was further pointed up by the decision to include the many alternate solutions to the plot on this 2-CD set. Since Dickens died without revealing the solution to the mystery, Holmes came up with the canny idea to have the audience vote every night. This is mighty effective in the theatre; no matter who wins, they have a solo ready to sing. Hearing them all, one after another, somehow makes Holmes' accomplishment seem less impressive; we see the glue with which the author has snipped and snapped and pasted bits of melody and lyric to fit all the characters. After a while of this, my reaction was simply: OK, I have seen the writing on the wall — to quote one of Mr. H's songtitles — but must I listen to the rest of it?

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