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`Drood' disc complete with multiple endings

By Thor Eckert Jr. / June 6, 1986



New York

Charles Dickens never finished ``The Mystery of Edwin Drood,'' but Rupert Holmes has managed to turn the Dickens tale into a Broadway musical that won four Tony Awards earlier this week. As everyone must know by now, Holmes chose to make it a ``solve-it-yourself'' mystery. At the height of the vaudeville-cum-mystery goings-on, the performance stops, and the audience is asked to vote for the identity of the murderer as well as that of another pivotal character. Then the democratically determined ending is played out. Is it any surprise that an ending this transient would be cause for worry when conceiving the recording of ``Edwin Drood''? After all, how can you, the home listener, have any effect on the solution of this musical as it plays on your turntable?

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Well, if you are one of those many home sound enthusiasts who still feel that vinyl black discs are the only way to listen to anything, you'll experience ``Drood'' the way the opening night Imperial Theatre audience voted it to end.

If, on the other hand, you have taken the compact disc (CD) plunge, you are in for a surprise. For the CD version of ``Edwin Drood'' is also ``solve-it-yourself.''

After listening to the bulk of the album, you are faced with two groups of multiple selections. You merely program your CD player to audition one track from column ``A'' and one from column ``B'' -- et voila! You can hear your own solution of ``The Mystery of Edwin Drood'' in your own living room.

It really is an enchanting way to experience the show. But there are some mysteries that even this CD can't solve. For instance, why has the lovely little song ``Ceylon'' vanished from the CD, along with the extended ``Moonfall Quartet''? Both are on the black vinyl disk, and since CDs are supposed to be able to cope with up to 74 minutes of programming, there was the space for these missing items.

Serious collectors of Broadway musicals, therefore, will have to have both recorded versions. And even then they still won't have the wonderful hallucination ballet music from ``Wages of Sin.'' This is doubly sad since, in performance, that ballet was a deliciously insinuating incarnation of the clever music.

And what of the album as a souvenir of this entertaining romp of a show? It is good enough, without having the spontaneity it really needs, due mostly to the synthetic quality of the sound. One is aware of the sound booths the singers are placed in. Nevertheless, the cast boasts the splendid voices of Patti Cohenour, Howard McGillin (a particular find with his matinee idol looks and handsome baritone), and the legendary Cleo Laine. (How good to have her on Broadway at last!).

The score falls in the serviceable category and is held together -- both on stage and on disc, by the ebullient George Rose -- as engaging a master of ceremonies as any show album could hope to have.