A Conversation With Rupert Holmes: The Man Behind the Music and Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Adam Hetrick
07 Feb 2013

Stephanie J. Block in the title role
Photo by Joan Marcus

When I spoke with the cast during rehearsals, they said it felt like a new production, with revisions and rewrites happening daily.

RH: This production doesn't feel like a revival. From day one, because of Scott, the incredible cast, and my having re-orchestrated the whole show, it feels new. During rehearsals, like with any new show, I'm watching the cast, I'm hearing their voices, I'm seeing how they're playing things and I will write lines to adjust directly to that.

It was never of a period. It may have been on Broadway in the 1980s but it's not an '80s show. It is its own strange bird. I feel like this is a brand new show, like we are presenting this for the first time to the audience.



It's impressive and daunting that you not only took on the task of writing the book, music and lyrics, but also the orchestrations.

RH: When I was a pop songwriter, I heard arrangers taking my song and I would think, "Boy, they really didn't get it." And I thought, "Dear God, I'm going to have to learn to be an arranger to preserve my songs." So, I taught myself orchestration. I went to Manhattan School of Music, but I didn't learn anything specifically about pop-music orchestrating there.

So, when Barbra Streisand asked me to do an album with her as a songwriter, I also was the arranger on that album and conducted the orchestra. And on all of my own albums, people don't realize that I had a pop record called "Him" with a big string section in it. They don't understand that there was a day where I sat and conducted that string part. They think I'm just singing the tune. I always did my own orchestrations.

Jim Norton as the Chairman
photo by Andrew Eccles

So when I started to write the score of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I knew what I thought the orchestra would play. The only question in my mind as I composed it was how big an orchestra Joe Papp was going to give me.

When I was about a third of the way through the orchestrations, someone asked me at the Shakespeare Festival, who was going do to the orchestrations for the show? And I said, "I'm doing them." And they said, "You don't do that." And I said, "I don't? I dont know how not to do that. I know what the string parts are already." And so they said, "Well, good luck."

When I finished the initial Broadway orchestrations, I realized why that's not a good idea. I probably would never try to do it again. But then when I found out that we were going to have a different sized orchestra for this new version, I thought I would have to do them again because I know where everything is buried in the score, and I think I can get a similar sound to that which we had in 1985 out of this different instrumentation. So, it was a lot easier this time. I wasn't having to make every decision about what counter line I wanted to use, the challenge was to get it to sound full. Roundabout gave me, what is for today a more than decent-sized orchestra, 15 pieces — a lot of people consider that to be a luxury today. I think they sound really good. I think it sounds full and very orchestral and not like we're trying to make three synthesizers pass for a full Broadway pit.

 Continued...