It was love at first sight, and it happened like this: In July 1990, while driving from Atlanta to Los Angeles, I stopped in Houston to see Jekyll & Hyde, a new musical that was premiering at the Alley Theatre. The opening minutes were pretty staid stuff. Then midway through Act One, the story moved to a ratty London bar. The scene began with one of those "Hey, Big Spender"-type numbers as a stage full of prostitutes brazenly stared down the audience, daring them to gloat.
And there she was, a sultry apparition. She stood downstage center, her bare right leg hiked onto a stool, and for a few minutes, as long as she was onstage, the world stopped. Her stunning performance indeed, her very presence was one of those rare indelible theater introductions you never forget.
This, from my daily journal entry of July 7, 1990: "As a regional theater production, Jekyll & Hyde is fabulous. As a pre-Broadway show, it leaves much to be desired. The music, all played on a synthesizer, is repetitious. The only reason for this show to continue to New York is Linda Eder. She is a star. When she's onstage, you can't take your eyes off her. The chorus fades away. She hardly opens her mouth, and this extraordinary sound pours out."
Fast-forward seventeen years. Linda Eder, diva, is coming to town.
On Friday, September 28, she and reigning Broadway leading man Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ragtime, Man of La Mancha) will play the Fox in an evening billed as a celebration of the American musical. A lofty pairing indeed. Yet the astonishing thing about Eder's soaring fame is that she is not a Broadway star. She only has the one Jekyll & Hyde credit. (It finally opened in New York seven years after I saw it, and Eder was still the only reason to see the show.) She's built an unlikely, anachronistic career as a talisman of Broadway without having had to sustain the long runs. Much of her success is due to her symbiotic, insulated relationship with Jekyll & Hyde composer Frank Wildhorn. Her sound was his inspiration; in turn, Eder sang his songs to perfection on CDs that Wildhorn lavishly produced. (Then, alas, when his musicals got produced, the performers who sang those same songs onstage could not hope to compare with Eder's renditions.)
Years ago when I was living in Los Angeles, a small newspaper ad announced a Linda Eder concert at Pepperdine University. By the time I finally got around to driving to the campus to buy a ticket, she was sold out. Tickets for her Fox appearance go on sale this week. Don't make my mistake. For, like that Houston evening so long ago, this too promises to be a night to remember.
As Eder branches out beyond Wildhorn, I don't know what to expect from the upcoming concert. She always has been a chameleon. If you peruse the artwork on her half-dozen CDs over the past decade, the makeovers are sometimes startling. The image on her most recent recordings is unrecognizable from her face at the start of her career. But one thing seems sure: Whatever she chooses to sing and whoever she has to become somewhere within Linda Eder resides a core of incandescence.