Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Eder, Etc.

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Eder, Etc. By now, Linda Eder, leading lady of Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde, must be tired of hearing her singing compared to that of Barbra Streisand. When the comparison arises in interviews, Eder is always gracious about it, stating that she considers it high praise and that hearing Streisand guided her away from operatic to popular music. But the comparison won't die, because Eder's singing is wildly reminiscent of Streisand's. Indeed, her chief appeal, I believe, derives from the fact that while she emulates Streisand's style--phrasings, inflections, pronunciations, portamenti, etc.-- too closely, she sings the way Streisand did when she was young, taking considerable vocal risks, yet always able to fill the most difficult phrases and land squarely on pitch. Eder is a throwback not only to Streisand but to such other '60s/'70s heart-on-sleeve warblers as Vicki Carr, Lana Cantrell, and even Eydie Gorme; in fact, her voice isn't that much like Streisand's, it's the way she uses it that is. And Eder's is quite an instrument.
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By now, Linda Eder, leading lady of Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde, must be tired of hearing her singing compared to that of Barbra Streisand. When the comparison arises in interviews, Eder is always gracious about it, stating that she considers it high praise and that hearing Streisand guided her away from operatic to popular music. But the comparison won't die, because Eder's singing is wildly reminiscent of Streisand's. Indeed, her chief appeal, I believe, derives from the fact that while she emulates Streisand's style--phrasings, inflections, pronunciations, portamenti, etc.-- too closely, she sings the way Streisand did when she was young, taking considerable vocal risks, yet always able to fill the most difficult phrases and land squarely on pitch. Eder is a throwback not only to Streisand but to such other '60s/'70s heart-on-sleeve warblers as Vicki Carr, Lana Cantrell, and even Eydie Gorme; in fact, her voice isn't that much like Streisand's, it's the way she uses it that is. And Eder's is quite an instrument.

Eder can now be enjoyed on two new Atlantic releases, the Broadway cast recording of Jekyll & Hyde and her third solo album (and first for Atlantic), It's Time. First, give credit to Jekyll & Hyde where it's due: Through sheer determination and persistence (not to mention heavy promotion), the show is now an apparent if not runaway hit on Broadway, and is poised for what promises to be a lengthy international career. The new recording is the third devoted to the score, following two studio recordings, RCA Victor's single disc (1990) that featured just Eder and Colm Wilkinson performing everything, with no attempt made to put the songs in theatrical context, and Atlantic's far more theatrical 1994 double-CD set, featuring a good deal of the material heard in the show's 1995-'96 national touring version.

All three recordings have Eder, muse and fiancee of the show's composer, Frank Wildhorn, and Eder fans will want all of them because the first has her singing both female roles (divided on the other recordings), and the first and second have her singing songs not on the new disc, especially the fun "Bring on the Men," heard on the second recording and in the national tour but dropped for Broadway. The second recording has the Jekyll/Hyde of Anthony Warlow, Australia's foremost male musical theatre performer, and his thrilling singing is unmatched by the leading men on the other recordings. And because over the years songs have come and gone and the three recordings differ radically in material (give or take the six or seven major numbers), diehard "jekkies" will also want all three.

If you're only looking to purchase one, however, the new disc is clearly the choice because, even though its 74 minutes preserve highlights and lack substantial chunks of the score, it's the only stage cast recording, it's a single CD (and vastly preferable to the untheatrical premiere single disc), and it preserves the current stage version, likely to become the version used in future productions.

Over the years, I've been fairly harsh in my assessments of J&H on its recordings and in its stage productions; indeed, I never expected to write anything good about it. But while I will never be counted among the "jekkies," I must say that the new disc makes the best case to date for this score; as a matter of fact, it's the first time it actually sounds like a score. Leslie Bricusse's lyrics remain an insurmountable problem--I suspect I will enjoy J&H more when I hear it sung in a language foreign to me--but my chief complaint remains the fact that, at least in the big ballads and duets, Wildhorn is writing pop songs rather than theatre music; both in lyrics and melody, these numbers don't really reflect the characters singing them, and are generic numbers that could have been composed for the charts rather than for the theatre. That said, the new recording is by far the most listenable Jekyll yet, and Eder delivers strongly throughout. It's Time follows Eder's solo discs for RCA (at the time of the first Jekyll recording) and for Angel (for which she recorded the Scarlet Pimpernel studio disc). As one would expect, It's Time is almost entirely Wildhorn, including one number from Pimpernel not heard on the Angel disc (but no doubt to be included in the coming Broadway production), and one from a forthcoming Wildhorn project, The Civil War. Aside from Wildhorn, there are "Over The Rainbow," "Unusual Way" from Nine, and, of all things, "I Am I, Don Quixote."

Say for the Wildhorn material here that it at least shows Eder off well. On her first two discs, Eder sounded like a singing machine, one programmed to resemble Streisand and a few others of that ilk. But she has improved and developed a real vocal personality, and here she sounds like a real contender.

And credit Atlantic with knowing how to promote their new singing star: Not only did they send along the new J&H recording and Eder's disc, but the package also included their first J&H set (the third copy I've received), an Eder/Jekyll press kit with photos suitable for framing, and three videotapes (the 22-minute reel of show footage, Eder's latest music video, and a reel of Eder's TV appearances). Would that all labels provided critics with so many hours of listening and viewing pleasure.

Varese Sarabande has issued on two CDs highlights from this year's Los Angeles S.T.A.G.E. benefit Cole Porter: A Musical Toast, its 13th annual salute to a theatre composer. Most outstanding on the recording are Davis Gaines ("Where Is The Life That Late I Led?"), KT Sullivan ("Always True To You In My Fashion"), Carolee Carmello ("Night and Day"), David Hyde Pierce ("Thank You So Much, Missus Lowsborough Goodby"), and Harry Groener and Megan Mullaly ("You're The Top"). But you may not be surprised to learn that my favorite track by far is Gretchen Wyler (currently enjoying the renown of a mention in Douglas Carter Beane's off-Broadway hit As Bees In Honey Drown) recreating her "Stereophonic Sound" number from Silk Stockings. Performers in the concert cut from the recording include Pat Suzuki and Dale Kristien. As has become customary on recent Varese discs, there's a "hidden" bonus track (at the end of CD2), Carole Cook in her annual, shameless monologue, hilarious as always.

Finally, CD news from Australia: The 1981Australian cast recording of Chicago, until this year the only recording of the show other than the 1975 Broadway original, will soon be reissued on CD. The leads are Nancye Hayes (Australia's Sweet Charity), Geraldine Turner (seen in the Australian Night Music, Company, and Anything Goes), Terence Donovan (father of Jason Donovan, the star of the London Joseph revival), and Judi Connelli. Also planned is a seven-track CD of this fall's Australian premiere of Jekyll and Hyde, with Simon Burke and Delia Hannah in the leads. What--a J&H disc without Linda Eder?

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com