Wednesday, February 6, 2013

CD Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012 Cast Recording)

The best reviewed musical of the season, and a certain Tony nominee for Best Revival of a Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood has been given the full treatment in the cast recording department.  Lovers of the show will be thrilled at how complete this new recording is.  Fans of the original might not be able to completely let it out of their memories, but I don't think they'll disappointed, either.  I have often expressed on this blog how Drood is one of my all-time favorites, and I fall in both the "lovers of the show" and the "fans of the original" categories.  And I am thrilled at completeness of the recording, and while George Rose, Betty Buckley and Howard McGillin can never really be replaced, Jim Norton, Stephanie J. Block and Will Chase bring some damned fine work to the new recording. (Review continues below.)

Grade: A

Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Artist: The 2012 New Broadway Cast 
Label: DRG Records
Number: DRG-19883
Format: Double CD
Case: Single Jewel Case, with double CD center
Booklet: Full color, 12 section card stock fold out.  Art direction and package designed by Sean Marlowe. Production photos by Joan Marcus; cover photo by Andrew Eccles; logo design by SpotCo.  Liner notes by Rupert Holmes.  Album produced by Hugh Fordin.  Complete lyrics available at .

The Bad News First

OK, the truth is that there is really no "bad news."  But there are just two things I'm disappointed in.  First, considering that there are two discs in play, it is too bad that they didn't record all of the "Out on a Limerick" Datchery possibilities, and that they didn't do the same with the lovers' endings.  The second thing I'm disappointed in is that Rupert Holmes didn't take this opportunity to record "A Private Investigation," a snappy little tune that takes the place of "Settling Up the Score" in the licensed version of the show.  I would have liked it to be in this revival - it is a great number that doesn't sound anything at all like "Don't Quit While You're Ahead," which "Settling Up the Score" most definitely does.  And considering that this recording includes both the "Encore" and "Reprise" of "Don't Quit," including the unused song as a bonus track might have been nice.

"Ceylon/A British Subject"
Andy Karl, Jessie Mueller and Stephanie J. Block

The Good News Last

All of that said, it is hard to complain at the completeness of the recording.  Of course, there are the new songs - "A British Subject" and the Act 2 opener, "An English Music Hall."  Both song add to the fabric of the show - the former, coupled with "Ceylon" really clarifies conflict between Edwin Drood and Crisparkle's Anglo-centric beliefs of the British aristocracy, as well as their almost unbridled racism and the fierce national pride held by the Landless twins.  The plot thickens here for sure.  And the infectious "Music Hall" is a clever toe-tapper of a number that quickly re-establishes the over all tone of the piece.  Then there is my favorite inclusion: "Opium Den Ballet," aka "Jasper's Vision."  Not only is it an incredible instrumental, it really speaks to the depth of talent of Mr. Holmes.  His use of themes and motifs blended with a creepy, mysterious and chilling wordless story is genius.  I also love that dance sections have been included in several instances.

"Opium Den Ballet"

But what really sells this recording is the cast itself.  To a person (including the amazingly talented ensemble) the cast is on the same page, which comes blasting through the speakers (or headphones).  They all are acting their asses off without ever sacrificing vocal quality, and you can tell that they are having a great time doing this.  From Jim Norton's sly, low key delivery to Will Chase's deliciously evil laughter to the easy back and forth of Stephanie J. Block's male impersonation and diva quality belting, this is a feast for the ears and imagination.  Betsy Wolfe threatens to steal the show nightly at Studio 54, and she does the same here.  What a beautiful instrument she possesses!  And skip right to "Rosa's Confession."  Amazing.  Funny.  wonderful. Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller come across particularly well, as they purr and growl their way through their scenes and songs.  Robert Creighton's "Durdles' Confession" is a scream.  (I hope I get to see his ending when I return to the show in a few weeks!) And Peter Benson's take on the hapless Bazzard is fun and heart-warming.  

The crown jewel, though, is the legendary Chita Rivera, always known more for her dancing and acting than her vocal prowess.  On this recording, her unabashed joy (check out her giggle fit during "There You Are") and her vocal "wink-wink" as she laughs her way through the "Wages of Sin" always makes me smile.  But there is also the quintessential Chita, she of the dramatic reading of songs, coupled with her trademark vibrato and lower register, that gives real dimension to "The Garden Path to Hell."  And her "Puffer's Confession" is a hot mix of emotions.  How great is it that one of Broadway's greatest talents of all time has embraced a supporting role and is a more than game team player in this intense ensemble piece?  She is marvelous.

Chits Rivera "Settles Up the Score"

"Two Kinsmen"
Will Chase and Stephanie J. Block

Aside from the new numbers, there are many highlights, including the beautiful "Moonfall," the breath-taking (literally) "Both Sides of the Coin," and the awesome duets "The Name of Love/Moonfall," "Two Kinsmen," and the great "Perfect Strangers."  As the Chairman says, this is "an embarrassment of riches."  I'd like to think that the late George Rose is looking down at all of this and is banging his Chairman's gavel in approval.


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