Every now and then, a singer comes along with a voice so extraordinary that comparison to his or her contemporaries is more than simply unfair - it's superfluous. Linda Eder has such a voice. She jokes about singing loud, but it isn't the volume that's so awesome, it's the purity of her voice. Most belters don't have the vocal dexterity that allows them to hit high notes like lightning or, just as easily, bless the same notes with the delicacy of a kiss. By the same token, Eder can barrel through her lower register with lusty abandon. She is always in total control of her voice, whether she's whipping or whispering her lyrics. In short, her vocal instrument is the human equivalent of a Stradivarius. She is playing that amazing instrument right now at Feinstein's at The Regency, through March 25.
Eder told the opening night audience at Feinstein's that she got her start in a tiny cabaret club called Lord Fletcher's in Minnesota. Since then, she's been everywhere from Star Search on TV (she won, big surprise!) to a solo show at Carnegie Hall. In between, she made a star-making stop on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde. Now she's back in an intimate cabaret room, but what a difference for her - and what an opportunity for you. While singers like Streisand are literally out of touch with their audience, either no longer performing or playing in such huge halls that you need binoculars to see them, here is this generation's Streisand performing literally within inches of her public. Of course, you pay for the privilege; but Eder is among that rare breed of talents who are worth it.
Eder's voice is such a wonder that it actually masks a number of flaws in her show. For instance, her material isn't always worthy of her talent. She sings a banal ballad called "Little Things" that calls on few of her skills; it's repetitive, and she also tells the audience too much about the song before she sings it, rather than letting it speak for itself. Also, Eder has a personal tic of playing with her hair, constantly pushing it back behind her ear. Her husband, composer Frank Wildhorn, would be wise to buy her a hair clip to stop that distracting bit of business.
The biggest flaw in her show is that Eder rarely "acts" her songs. With the exception of "Vienna," which she performs with an incandescent emotionality, she offers her songs as if she was on a concert stage rather than in a cabaret room. Nonetheless, she sings those songs with such impressive musicality, such vibrant and thrilling vocalese, that she is beyond the usual rules of criticism. If she acted all of her numbers as well as "Vienna," the audience at Feinstein's would have ended the evening in emotional tatters. As it was, most hands ached from applauding so hard.
What finally counts are the things that Eder does well, and she stops the show with a shattering rendition of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" She stops it again with what has become a signature number, "I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha. Her version of this classic show tune includes vocal pyrotechnics so astonishing that the audience burst into applause in the middle of the song! Time and again, like a champion tennis player charging the net, Eder triumphed with terrific renditions of numbers like "Romancing the Blues" and the offbeat love song, "You Never Remind Me." Perhaps most amazing is the apparent effortlessness with which she aces every note, her voice soaring and swooping.
Unlike her recent Carnegie Hall concert, which reportedly ran heavy with thundering 11-o'clock numbers from musicals, this show is a more varied affair. Eder spoke about scaling the show down to match the size of a cabaret room. She still offers some of those big show tunes, and both the audience and these critics clearly preferred those chandelier-shaking numbers (because they take best advantage of her voice). Which just goes to prove that there is no such thing as being "too big for the room." If you've got the talent, the room expands to your size - and Eder has what it takes.
When she isn't singing, she is just as winning. An anti-diva, Linda Eder comes across as unpretentious and down-to-earth. Her patter suggests she's the musical virtuoso next door - a "just folks" type who happens to have a voice like no one else in her generation.