Linda Eder: A little bit country, a little bit Broadway | AspenTimes.com

Linda Eder: A little bit country, a little bit Broadway

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado

Cabaret singer Linda Eder makes her Aspen debut Friday at the Wheeler Opera House. (Contributed photo)

ASPEN Linda Eder says that there are a group of critics who arent fond of her. As divas go, Eder is not diva enough for them. There are people, especially here on the East Coast, who want their divas, said the singer by phone.Her fans, on the other hand, adore Eder just the way she appears: approachable and unassuming, until she gets onstage, where she lets her voice and emotions rip. She wonders, though, how her fans would respond if they knew just how much of an anti-diva she is.Of course, seeing someone knee-deep in manure, driving a tractor that would surprise them, said the 46-year-old Eder (it rhymes with cheddar), who makes her Aspen debut Friday at the Wheeler Opera House at 8 p.m. Thats different than just being a relaxed person onstage.In fact, onstage is where Eder is most likely not to be relaxed. The singer, known best for originating the role of Lucy in the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde and for reinterpreting the songs of Judy Garland, amps it all up when she performs.Im a balls-to-the-wall singer, said Eder. Thats what my fans want. I belt it to the top of my range.But thats a costume Im wearing. Im usually up there in gowns, singing big Broadwayesque numbers. And thats not me. Its like playing a role. Im more an outdoors, jeans, country girl probably the least-entertaining figure youd ever meet.Strip away that costume the powerful pipes, the gung-ho attitude, and the sparkly dress and what you get is not just someone who is happy to sit on the couch in sweats, eating a pint of ice cream and watching The Simpsons. The true Eder goes beyond that level of plain ol gal to the woman who really does sit on a tractor and returns from the field smelling of manure. At her home, an hour north of New York City, she fits in with the rest of the residents of North Salem which she calls a very horsey town by owning, riding and caring for her stable of ponies. On the inside, she hasnt moved far away from her upbringing: a very stoic, Midwestern family, she says, the daughter of north European immigrants who settled in Minnesota.Eder says she isnt sure what attracted her to the glamour of cabaret performing in the model of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, wearing precious gowns and a precious attitude, belting out songs like Dont Rain on My Parade and Over the Rainbow to swelling strings. But she suspects that early on, the draw was that it represented something so different than her real life in Brainerd, Minn., midway between Fargo, N.D., and Duluth. At 8, Eder watched The Wizard of Oz, with the 16-year-old Garland, a Minnesota native, in the role of Dorothy.It just made me want to sing, she said. Maybe it had to do with my upbringing, my Midwestern family, and here was a woman singing with her heart on her sleeve. I loved pretty voices singing beautiful melodies.Eder became one of those pretty voices in a gown. After spending her childhood imitating Garland, and absorbing opera and Broadway, an acquaintance brought Eder, just out of high school, into the studio to produce three songs. That set the course: She appeared on the TV show Star Search, where she won for a record 13 weeks. In 1991, she starred in the musical Svengali, which featured music by her then husband, Frank Wildhorn. In 1997, she had her biggest stage ever, appearing on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde. Eder earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for her role as Lucy, a beautiful prostitute. Shortly after Jekyll & Hyde, Eder gave birth to a son and waved goodbye to the rigors of a Broadway show. Her career, however, and her professional persona, have stayed in a similar vein, as Eder appears as a cabaret singer and recording artist. Her last few albums have included By Myself: The Songs of Judy Garland, and Broadway, My Way.Eder hasnt been listening much to Garland, Streisand and the soundtrack to Wicked lately, but to the music she truly favors: country-flavored fare as played by Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan. Ive gone back to my roots in what Im listening to, she said.What she has been listening to is only the beginning. Eder is seeking to create a convergence between what she thinks of as her internal self and her artistic one. She recently completed recording an album, a year in the making, titled The Other Side of Me. She describes the CD as pop, with a country, Americana feel. Lots of guitar. Eder co-wrote several of the songs, including the title track.When the CD is released, likely this coming year, Eder will inevitably learn something about her fans, and music audiences in general. She expects her fans known to be especially devoted to buy the album and at least give it a chance, even though they know if will be nothing like her previous recordings. In this regard, she likens herself to a country star who can count on a loyal following through whatever creative turns she takes.I have what they used to call the country music fans, who stay with you, she said. Its what you want theyll go with you a little bit outside of their usual tastes.The real question is, what will actual country fans think of Eders take on country? Eder is skeptical. The country audience will know her past that is, her past as a Broadway and cabaret singer, not the girl pitching hay in a barn. (And not the animal lover who collects the quarters her fans give her and donates them some $25,000 so far to an animal-care charity.)In country, you have to be country, she said. They dont care if you can sing. You have to be country, look country.I dont know if it will succeed. Its a gamble. But it feels very real for me. Its fun. Its something I need to do right now.stewart@aspentimes.com