The Laura Nyro project the Vineyard Theatre has promised New York theatre goers finally has a name and two stars. Three-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn (She Loves Me, Chess, Les Miserables) and Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Rent) will lead Eli's Comin', a musical interpolating the music of the '60's and '70's singer/songwriter. Eli's Comin' (formerly Soul Picnic) begins performances April 11 at the Vineyard with an opening May 3.
Born in the Bronx, Nyro grew up listening to varied sources from Debussy to Coltrane to Burt Bacharach and doo wop. By the time she was 17, she had sold her first song, "And When I Die" to Peter Paul and Mary. She would go on to compose the hits "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Stoney End," "Wedding Bell Blues," "Sweet Blindness" and "Eli's Comin'." Nyro, whose songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Phoebe Snow, Linda Ronstadt and Three Dog Night, died of ovarian cancer at age 49 in 1997.
But Eli's Comin', as co-created by the musical's director Diane Paulus and Bruce Buschel, is not an autobiographical show or a revue. Its closest cousin may be Mamma Mia!, where the artists' songs inform the emotions of the scene. Of course, Eli's Comin' is more serious in tone than the ABBA musical - it follows the path of artist Emmie as she traverses the heart and soul of the city, looking for salvation in the mothers and children and angels and demons that inhabit it.
Kuhn last appeared at the Vineyard in Dream True. Her other credits include The Ballad of Little Jo, King David and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Aside from winning the Tony, Drama Desk and Obie Awards as Angel in Rent, Heredia has also appeared in New York's Popol Vuh and The New Americans.
Joining them are Ronnell Bey, Anika Noni-Rose and Mandy Gonzalez. Jazz musician and Running Man composer Diedre Murray created the musical arrangements. She has chosen to score Nyro's songs for a six piece jazz ensemble.
Designing Eli's Comin' are Drama Desk set design nominee G. W. Mercier (Bed and Sofa, Dream True), costumer Linda Cho, lighting designer Jane Cox and sound designer Brett Jarvis.
Tickets are $49-$15. The Vineyard is located at 108 E. 15th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 353-3366.
— By Christine Ehren