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Verve Goes “Off to the Races” with Remastered Reissue of Rupert Holmes’ “Mystery of Edwin Drood”

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“I had been over at Barry Manilow’s house, and he said ‘you know Rupert Holmes?’  I said, ‘No,’” recalled Academy Award-winning producer Craig Zadan to author Kenneth Turan.  “[Barry] played me his records, and I flipped out.  I got all his records, and I made Joe [Papp] and [his wife] Gail listen to them and they fell in love with the work…at one point, Rupert came up with an idea about a show about a recording studio, but it ultimately didn’t jell.  But I told him, ‘I believe you’re a great theatrical writer and you should write for here [the Public Theater].”  Holmes, always a mystery buff, had another idea.  This one paid off.  When The Mystery of Edwin Drood opened on Broadway in 1985, following a run in New York’s Central Park, Holmes found himself showered with Tony Awards, as Drood took home the statuettes for Best Book of a Musical, Best Score, Leading Actor in a Musical (George Rose), Best Director (Wilford Leach) and Best Musical.  Had the Best Orchestrations Tony been invented yet, Holmes would likely have won that, too.  With the first-ever Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood now in previews from director Scott Ellis and the Roundabout Theatre Company, Verve has taken the opportunity to bring the long out-of-print Original Broadway Cast Recording back to CD.

Holmes was already a veteran of the music business when he entered the world of theatre.  He had survived bubblegum, writing, arranging and/or singing for The Cuff Links, The Street People, The Buoys and The Partridge Family, before launching own solo career with 1974’s WidescreenWidescreen, produced by his frequent collaborator Jeffrey Lesser, contained songs with sound effects, dialogue and various-sized bands and orchestration, creating what Holmes deemed film-rock.  He was a creative artist and songwriter whose imagination knew no bounds, and eventually his C.V. included production clients from Barbra Streisand to Sparks.  Holmes also scored the final No. 1 hit of the 1970s and the first of the 1980s with his “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).”  The tune was no less inventive than his other records, but it became the first to strike a truly universal chord.

We’ve explored Holmes’ back catalogue in depth in an early installment of Back Tracks, but needless to say, he brought the full scope of his experiences as a songwriter and musician to the task to musicalized Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  And novel, Holmes’ musical was!  For one thing, it was billed as “The Solve-It-Yourself Broadway Musical,” for the audience actually chose the murderer each evening from a multitude of possibilities!  The score encompassed styles from traditional English music hall to ravishing balladry, but there was nary a trace of Holmes’ urban pop sound, making his transition to theatre all the more impressive.  The constants, however, were his clever, witty and absorbing lyrics.  (For the record, Holmes and Rita Coolidge did record a lovely pop single version of the duet “Perfect Strangers.”)

The Broadway Cast Recording preserves the peerless original cast in a play within a play, including George Rose as Mr. William Cartwright, the evening’s Mayor and Chairman, Patti Cohenour as Rosa Bud/Deirdre Peregrine, Howard McGillin as John Jasper/Clive Paget, Cleo Laine as Princess Puffer/Angela Prysock, Judy Kuhn as Alice/Isabel Yearsley, Donna Murphy as Beatrice/Florence Gill, and Betty Buckley as Alice Nutting and the gender-bending Edwin Drood.

Don’t take the garden path to Hell!  Just hit the jump instead, won’t you?

Drood was proudly billed on its cover artwork as a “Digital Recording,” emphasizing that the latest technology had been used to bring the cast album to life in the new compact disc era.  Holmes himself, of course, produced the album for Polydor Records.  The 28-track CD (Polydor G 827 969-2 Y-1) included five versions of “Out of a Limerick” (answering the question of “Who is Dick Datchery?”) and seven “Murderer’s Confession” tracks: one from Jasper plus six other possibilities.  Another treat was the “instructional” “Word from Your Chairman” explaining to home listeners just how to sequence the tracks that followed.  However, the original Polydor vinyl and cassette versions included “Ceylon” and “Moonfall Quartet,” both of which were absent from the CD.  Still following me?  When Varese Sarabande and producer Bruce Kimmel reissued Edwin Drood on CD in 1995 (VSD-5597), it was in a 21-track program overseen by Holmes.  “Ceylon” and “Moonfall Quartet” were restored, but just one “Out on a Limerick” was present, from Bazzard.  Only the “Confessions” of John Jasper, Rosa Bud and Princess Puffer appeared on the disc.  Rosa’s was Holmes’ “favorite serious confession,” and the choice by the original production’s press night preview audience.  (Rosa’s was the confession chosen by the first preview crowd for the revival, on Friday, October 19, 2012, too!)  Puffer’s was the Broadway opening night crowd’s selection, and the preferred comedic favorite of the librettist/composer/lyricist.

Verve’s new edition is a particularly welcome reissue, and second-hand copies of both the Polydor and Varese Sarabande CDs routinely fetch upward of $50.00.  Alas, the new reissue from Verve replicates the truncated 21-track program of the Varese CD, with a small consolation arriving digitally.  The newly-offered digital program contains the full 30-track sequence, i.e. the complete contents of the Polydor CD, plus “Moonfall Quartet” and “Ceylon” restored.  Naturally, this would have been the preferred program for the CD release, as all tracks can fit comfortably on one CD.  The nicely-expanded booklet features full lyrics and a brief, new introduction, and the CD itself has been freshly remastered by Kevin Reeves.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is available now from Verve Records to mark the musical’s first Broadway revival, currently playing at Studio 54.  You can settle up the score and order below!

Various Artists, The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Varese Sarabande VSD-5977, 1995 – reissued Verve B0017483-02, 2012 – also available as an expanded Digital Release)

  1. There You Are
  2. A Man Could Go Quite Mad
  3. Two Kinsmen
  4. Moonfall
  5. Moonfall Quartet
  6. The Wages of Sin
  7. Ceylon
  8. Both Sides of the Coin
  9. Perfect Strangers
  10. No Good Can Come From Bad
  11. Never the Luck
  12. The Name of Love/Moonfall (Reprise)
  13. Settling Up the Score
  14. Off to the Races
  15. Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead
  16. The Garden Path to Hell
  17. A Word from Your Chairman (*)
  18. Out on a Limerick (Rosa Bud) (*)
  19. Out on a Limerick (Reverend Crisparkle) (*)
  20. Out on a Limerick (Bazzard)
  21. Out on a Limerick (Neville Landless) (*)
  22. Out on a Limerick (Helena Landless) (*)
  23. Murderer’s Confession (Jasper)
  24. Murderer’s Confession (Puffer)
  25. Murderer’s Confession (Rosa Bud)
  26. Murderer’s Confession (Bazzard) (*)
  27. Murderer’s Confession (Reverend Crisparkle) (*)
  28. Murderer’s Confession (Neville Landless) (*)
  29. Murderer’s Confession (Helena Landless) (*)
  30. Finale: The Writing on the Wall

Tracks 5 & 7 first appeared on CD on Varese Sarabande VSD-5597, 1995

All tracks appear on digital program.  (*) are digital-only tracks.

Written by Joe Marchese

October 25, 2012 at 15:11

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