Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Evening with Linda Eder at Town Hall

Unless you are a hard core theatre fan you might not know who Linda Eder is, and even then she only appeared on Broadway in one show, "Jekyll & Hyde" in 1997. 

My first exposure to her was an evening in 1996 when I was sitting in Barrymore's restaurant in the heart of the theatre district.  They were known for the novelty of playing only show music for their clientele, and on this night I heard a fantastic voice singing something I didn't recognize.  After listening a few moments I turned to my friend and said "Barbra sounds AMAZING!".  I was almost instantaneously corrected by our waiter, an "actor/waiter" type of guy who knows everyone and everything about the theatre.  "That's not BAR-BRA!", he corrected with an over-enunciated clip,   "It's LINDA EDER!  And if she learns to stop copying Barbra then she's going to be a huge star."  What we were hearing was the concept album for "Jekyll & Hyde", recorded before the show was staged in New York, and considering the level of detail with which I recall my first exposure to her it would be correct to say she made a huge impression on me.  In 1988 after a 12 week winning streak she won "Star Search" which brought her national exposure and was the catalyst to her meeting Frank Wildhorn, the composer of "Jekyll & Hyde", whom she would marry in 1998 after making her Broadway debut in the show.

This is the song I heard Linda singing that night in the restaurant.  It's called "Someone Like You":

Linda has a phenomenal voice.  That she sounded like Streisand in the beginning has more to do with the intrinsic tone and vocal production they share than any direct imitation of style.  Both women are considered "belters", yet neither sings with full chest voice.  They both produce their voices from a soprano position (as does Celine Dion, who could be included in the same vocal category) yet beef up the sound through resonance and breath support which gives them that incredible spin and ability to hold notes longer than most other singers in their genre.   What I mean by a "soprano position" is that every note she sings begins from a lifted, higher placement rather than from a lower chest sound.  This allows her to sing in a most tender, feminine, youthful way even though she just turned 50.  And I'm not talking about the "little girl" voice that someone like Idina Menzel uses, because in her case that is simply a mannered way of pronouncing words, and her vocal production is diametrically opposed to the technique Linda uses.  To use examples from the past to make my point:  Linda creates her sound in a similar way to Judy Collins, Idina creates hers more like Liza (but Liza never affected the little girl sound).  Linda also has perfect breath control and sings with a full range of dynamics, not relying on a sound mixer or her microphone to shade a song.  Live in concert she sang through long lines of difficult music in one breath a number of  times and I found myself shaking my head and wondering how she could possibly do it.  That was one of Barbra's tricks back in the day, because she also had a fully supported voice and was able to play with dynamics and hold notes forever.  All of the highlighted names above link to examples of the points I just made.

This is fun example of the way Linda likes to use her range to "play" with her material:

Linda has recorded over a dozen albums, focusing mainly on pop or Broadway type power ballads in which she excels, jazz, a touch of country, and standards.  After "Jekyll & Hyde" the song that got me hooked on her is a fully orchestrated power ballad written by Wildhorn (possibly from an unproduced musical) titled "Vienna", and it's got one of those key changes that makes me tingle all over.

So if you've listened to both of those clips you have an idea of how great her voice is.  In concert last night she sang both "Vienna" and "Someone Like You", plus a handful of selections from her latest album, as well as some jazzy tunes, mostly original, and even one song she wrote herself. 

I'm not criticizing her when I say she is not really a good actress.  I think she might say the same about herself.  In "Jekyll & Hyde" she was passable; but a leading role in a high profile show requires more than that.  While I am certain she worked hard at creating her character it is indicative of her performance that she did not get a Tony nomination, didn't win any of the other theatrical awards, and has not appeared in a fully staged musical in New York again.  I think she knows her strengths and chooses to focus on them, and it is definitely in the concert setting that her gifts are displayed to full advantage.  In her concert last night the only perceived flaw in her entire show, or any time I have seen her in the past, is that because she comes at songs from a vocal standpoint and not a dramatic one she doesn't have the same type of word emphasis that say Streisand does, which in the hands of someone with less voice might make the evening boring.  With Linda there is such an abundance of voice that it almost creates drama aurally, and I find myself being so stimulated by the sheer sound she puts out that I frankly don't care anymore that she generally has a smile on her face and visually isn't "acting" her songs.  She's not a Liza, Bernadette, or Bette.  She likes to make her music in her own relaxed way and take the audience on a journey with her warm presence, and she still creates a huge impact that way.  In the world of opera some people put sopranos into two categories - Stimme Dive and Kunst Diva.  Roughly interpreted they mean Voice Diva and Drama Diva, categorizing sopranos who either focus on creating the most beautiful sound (Renee Fleming, Montserrat Caballe, Renata Tebaldi), or those into creating a believable dramatic characterization, emphasizing the text, sometimes at the expense of beauty of tone (Maria Callas, Leonie Rysanek, Renata Scotto).  I have never preferred one over the other, because I can be taken on a journey by an artist in either, or both ways.  Linda is definitely Stimme. 

As we walked out of the theatre last night I turned to my two friends and said "If there is a heaven I think Linda Eder is singing there all the time".  I recommend if you like this type of music and this type of singing then go buy one of her albums.  She's a total original and she'll blow your socks off with the power and gorgeous tone of her voice.

Happy Theatre-going!