We went to a concert last night starring Linda Eder and Steve Tyrell. Steve was the first act and I actually had never heard of him or if I did, I forgot. He is like what I would call ” a working actor” and one who plays character roles. Now I hope that doesn’t throw you all off but it is an impression I got. He’s been around a long time in the business and as far as I was able to determine he is not a singer who ever recorded one of his own songs or sang one that became a hit. HOWEVER, he is a very good singer even now and I say that because he has been singing, song-writing, musical directing for over 40 years. He performs at the Cafe Carlyle, one of Manhattan’s premier rooms, he has sung songs in several movies starring Diane Keaton, he has produced hits with Rod Stewart and Diana Ross. He just finished recording his ninth album, a compilation of love songs. He was really very good and his musical selections, many from his new album, were spot on with the Auditorium crowd. In between songs, he talked about famous lyricists and songwriters, and which earlier artists were his greatest influence. Steve received more than one standing and they begged him to sing just one more and he did.
He is an entertainer, he plays to the audience, he sang what they wanted to hear…and the reward for that is applause, appreciation, a standing ovation and those calls for just one more! Is he an artist? Well, every performer, actor, singer, writer, poet, photographer, musician, painter believes they are an artist and in that sense they are, as they have mastered an art form. Steve Tyrell is talented, has a good voice and is at ease performing. He was the warm-up act for the star, Linda Eder.
Linda Eder is cabaret singer and Broadway performer par excellence! Her voice is an instrument not to be believed! On the road to stardom, Linda had a 12 week winning streak on the Star Search show of the late 1980′s. She is an accomplished soprano, her range is wide and her notes crystal clear. Listening to her belt out a tune, the mastery of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand quickly comes to mind. In fact, it has been said of Linda that she is a Barbra Streisand wannabe, which she handily refuted with the retort, “No, in fact, I am a Martha Stewart wannabe”- ahh, a woman after my own heart lol.
So here we have before us a very attractive woman, with an astonishing set of vocal cords and I am ready to be regaled with the great American Songbook standards she has been known to perform so beautifully. Alas, that is NOT what we heard. In the years since I last saw Eder perform, she has been on Broadway, married and divorce. For years, by her own admission, Linda sang only the songs her husband wrote. And that may explain a lot of what I found to be wrong with her performance last night.
Believe me, I don’t tout myself as either a musicologist or an expert on performance and entertaining. So the theory I am about to espouse may have no merit or a leg to stand on…but you read it and let me know what you think.
The biggest problem with Linda Eder’s performance was really two-fold; First of all like many artists, Eder took this performance opportunity to promote the songs from her new album, one that is comprised solely of her ex-husband’s songs. He is Frank Wildhorn, a Broadway composer, best known for his musical Jekyll and Hyde. You know that with very few exceptions, most songs written for a Broadway show, do not stand up well on their own. They are story songs, songs that move the play along and/or express an action or emotion of the moment. The glory songs of Berlin, Gershwin, Rogers & Hart, Arlen and other great songwriters of the past that emerged from a Broadway musical to become a hit are not the kind of songs that make up a modern day musical. There are exceptions, several from Andrew Lloyd Webber plays but it is not the norm. Story songs have many more words than the lyrics of the past. Think of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered or Come Rain or Come Shine. These are lyrics that have rhyming meter, are easy to hear and remember, NOT so with the selection of songs chosen by Ms. Eder to perform. She told her audience how beautiful the words were to several songs she sang, the words, however, were a mystery to me and I believe most of the audience. I listened to what people leaving the auditorium had to say. Universally they loved her voice and then said of course they weren’t familiar with the songs at all which is also a way of stating you didn’t really hear the words anyway.
My husband and I spent an hour after the concert discussing this disappointing factor in her performance. During the show, we turned to one another and said, ” I can’t understand a word she’s saying”. Now as to WHY? Peter said that her technique overcame clarity and I wholeheartedly agreed; It’s her strong voice and her style of inflection in which we lose the words. It’s not that she swallowed the words the way some singers do, and she wasn’t over-powered by the metallic shrieking of an electric guitar. No, I believe it was as he said, her technique along with a few other factors;
Linda Eder is a cabaret singer. Cabaret by definition is a small room performance, an intimate occasion between singer and audience. Often the songs are more ballad-like than well-known standards and often written by either the performer or by a lesser-known composer or lyricist, nonetheless, still an artist in their own right. The Great Auditorium is a concert hall, not a cabaret room. The acoustics are fabulous but they are monstrous as compared to say, the Oak Room at The Algonquin Hotel. Add in the factor that lots of Broadway songs especially the show stoppers are sung in a belt-it-out style. So what we heard were a lot story-type songs with long sentences sung by a high range soprano with a slightly theatrical style in a massive hall. Did she not enunciate her words? I don’t think so. I am basing this on several clips I watched of her earlier performances where every word was clearly heard. AND, in fact, last night she did sing Blue Skies by Irving Berlin and it was perfectly audible-was that because we were already familiar with the words? Maybe and by the way, there were probably 100 fewer words in that song that any of the new Wildhorn songs Eder performed.
As a sort of test, I watched a YOUTUBE clip of Barbra Streisand performing the rapid dialogue song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and then one of Eder singing the same song. It was almost as difficult to really understand the words sung by Barbra even though I have listened to that song hundreds of times. Too many words belted out.
To wrap up this very long commentary and hopefully not to leave you with a negative impression of one the BEST voices in today’s vocal community, let me say that Ms. Eder is an artist, her instrument is her voice, she is a Broadway performer not necessarily the same as an entertainer. She was not at ease with her audience, she wasn’t able to converse easily the audience in between songs. She refused a request even though it was at the end of her performance and would have been the just one more and one she probably could have sung a capella even if the band didn’t have the arrangement. All of this is NOT to say you shouldn’t see her perform. In fact if you have the opportunity you should run not walk to the ticket booth because to hear a VOICE the likes of Linda Eder’s is a rare treat and truly music to your ears!