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

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17 Feb 2013

The New Broadway Cast recording
The New Broadway Cast recording

This week's column discusses the revival cast album of Rupert Holmes' The Mystery of Edwin Drood plus a two-fer of 1961 recordings by Chita Rivera.


The Mystery of Edwin Drood [DRG]
I found The Mystery of Edwin Drood — Rupert Holmes' fanciful adaptation of Charles Dickens' final, unfinished novel — exuberantly refreshing when I first encountered it on a balmy August evening in 1985 at the Delacorte in Central Park. I found it slightly more polished but less brilliant that December, indoors at the Imperial. A quarter of a century later, the show returned to town last November. This time around, I found the show — extended through March 10, at Studio 54 — enjoyable and satisfactorily entertaining, which is a far cry from my enthusiastic visits in 1985.

Is this caused by the "repeated visit syndrome," which holds that delightful surprises will seem less delightful and less surprising with each viewing? Perhaps, although I am typically not prone to this malady. I've recently paid numerous visits to One Man, Two Guvnors; The Book of Mormon and Once, with no diminishment whatsoever. Although it could be that Drood is more dependent on gimmicks, which once revealed lose their luster.

A second possibility has to do with the level of performance and performers. The original production was thoroughly sparkling. Joe Papp and his Shakespeare Festival had struck gold in 1980 with a swashbuckling, new-style production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, which similarly coursed from the Delacorte to Broadway and left no audience-member without a broad smile. While Penzance and Drood were quite different in any manner of ways, the latter seemed infused with the same exhilaration of the former due to the presence of the same director and choreographer (respectively Wilford Leach and Graciela Daniele). Scott Ellis and Warren Carlyle have done a winning job with the new Roundabout edition, but it never quite seems to rise to the heights of the original.

The same can be said for the performers. Jim Norton (as the munificent Chairman), Will Chase (as the overwrought John Jasper), Jessie Mueller (as the mysterious Helena Landless), and Andy Karl (as the hotheaded Neville Landless) stand out, among a generally fine group. But for me, the original performers — George Rose (Chairman), Patti Cohenour (Rosa Bud), Howard McGillin (Jasper), Cleo Laine (Princess Puffer), and Betty Buckley (Edwin Drood) — inhabited their characters in a manner that this new cast doesn't, not in this production.

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