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Linda Eder Brings Musical Gems to Vineland's Jewel of a Stage

Linda Eder Brings Musical Gems to Vineland's Jewel of a Stage

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Linda Eder, one of the great contemporary voices in the music industry, is back in New Jersey. This time, she gets to showcase her talents in the surroundings of a new, lovingly restored, Art Deco movie palace — the Landis Theater in Vineland — in a Dec. 1 concert presented by Appel Farm Arts & Music Center. Eder grew up in Minnesota, where she first began singing. A gig at Harrah’s in Atlantic City and then an unprecedented, 12-week run on TV’s “Star Search” firmly set Eder’s career on an upward path. For several years, she played Lucy in the Broadway musical “Jekyll & Hyde” (composed by her former husband, songwriter Frank Wildhorn) and now enjoys her role as a solo artist. Eder’s latest recording, “Now” (Sony Masterworks, 2011), is a compilation of Wildhorn compositions that reunited the powerhouse team in the studio.

During a recent phone conversation, I asked Eder what pointed her in the direction of a singing career.

“It all started when I saw Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” she explains. “I was extremely shy as a kid, but I really wanted to sing, so I got into choir.”

Things moved quickly after that. Eder met a guy in choir who played keyboards and they formed a performing duo. Their big break came when they were asked to play the Holiday Inn. “Next, I got a manager and started singing in nicer, more upscale places.” And — as that well-worn saying goes — the rest is history.

“My parents thought it was just a phase,” she says. But this phase never ended.

For as long as she can remember, Eder has been a music lover, listening mainly to classical music and show tunes in her youth. “When I was 10, I was crazy for Eileen Farrell, the opera singer,” she says. But after she heard Barbra Streisand and — perhaps more significantly — realized what it meant to be Barbra Streisand, Eder’s musical aspirations took a different turn.

From her collaborations with a number of artists and her time on Broadway, Eder developed a large and diverse repertoire. With so many songs from which to choose, I wondered how she decides what to perform. For the Landis engagement, she will be accompanied by a pianist, bassist and guitarist.

“Certain songs work better live,” she explains. “And I definitely rotate songs — put them aside for a while and then bring them back.

“Lately, I’ve been doing songs I did 10 years ago, and they sound fresh all over again,” she adds. “Mainly, I just do what’s the most fun.”

At one time, Eder believed her performances were guided by what she thought audiences wanted to hear. “It was almost as if I was putting on a persona to do the music.”

But things changed with the release of “The Other Side of Me” in 2008. While marking a fairly dramatic departure from her previous material, Eder says the music on this record is closer to what she likes best: “I play guitar and write music, and it’s country pop.”

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How did listeners react? “They liked it,” she says. “I don’t think I lost any fans. In fact, I think I broadened my audience because of that album.”

About her time on Broadway: Did she enjoy that experience and does she consider a return to the musical theater stage anytime soon?

“When I was younger, I wanted to do everything,” Eder recalls. “I had ambition, but only so much.” Once she left “Jekyll & Hyde,” she decided to shift her focus to advancing her solo career.

“Don’t misunderstand,” Eder continues, “I love the theater … hanging out with the cast and being part of something.

“But it’s a huge time commitment. And it takes over your life,” she says. “Since my son was born (Jake, in 1999), I haven’t thought much about going back.”

Another aspect is the physical toll. Eder is a self-described belter, and singing night after night exhausted her voice. Even though artists do become thoroughly immersed in their stage characters, Eder says that’s very different from performing in concert. “With Broadway, you are given the words and the movements to perform. There is less freedom,” she says. “In concert, I am completely comfortable just being myself. I can have a great rapport with my audience.”

At this point in her career, Eder says she has carved out a niche “somewhere between celebrity and anonymity” and considers herself fortunate to have a loyal and appreciative fan base.

Since the album “Now” is another collaboration with Wildhorn (who has often referred to Eder as his muse), inquiring minds want to know if more projects between the two are forthcoming.

Eder chuckles at that question. “He wants to work with me all the time.” And she’s not surprised. “I seem to know how to sing his music as well as anyone.”

But Eder views the recent CD as the completion of a cycle. “We did this album and now I feel like we’ve come full circle,” she says. “I’ve worked very hard to establish myself and I’m happy with that.

“Of course, if he writes a song that is just so great,” she jokes, “I might be persuaded to change my mind.”

So Eder and I talked a lot about her career — how and when it started, where it’s been and where it might be going. But I sensed that there was a whole other side to Eder than what is seen on stage or heard on record. And I was right. When I asked her to tell me a little about her non-working life, she was happy to elaborate.

“Well, I might be doing a restoration project on my house, or be out on the tractor, or building a fence. I do everything! And I can’t possibly overstate how different the two parts of my life are.

“I’m a little like Annie Oakley — you know, doing the things that men normally do,” she half-jokes about escaping to upstate New York. “It definitely keeps me grounded. I love it!

“I always say that I can move easily between the two worlds,” she concludes. “You just have to give me enough time to clean off the dirt before I go on stage.”

Sean Timmons, Appel Farm’s artistic director, describes the Landis Theater as a “beautiful venue” that representatives of the regional arts center visited about 18 months ago. The 1937 building had reopened about a year before as part of a multi-million-dollar redevelopment plan in the Vineland business district.

Timmons says they were impressed with the look and feel of the place — the Art Deco style, the clear sightlines and the wide aisles. They also admired the preservation of the original movie/vaudeville house and how the addition of a restaurant and banquet room could make the venue a one-stop spot for a great night out.

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In April, the partnership called Appel Farm at the Landis was forged, allowing Appel Farm, which is based in Elmer, to manage the Landis Theater’s programming and operations beginning Oct. 1

This is a total win-win. The Landis is primed to be an active entertainment spot and Appel Farm, with a much bigger space for productions, will be able to expand the variety and scope of its offerings to include theater, comedy, screenings and much more, in addition to the music programming it already presented.

With good reason, Timmons and everyone at Appel Farm are excited about the future at the Landis. Sounding not unlike a proud parent, Timmons describes the theater: “It is a beautiful, modern, state-of-the-art facility, with an attached full-service restaurant and more than 300 parking spaces within one block of the front door.” Not only that, he goes on, “Appel Farm will now be able to present programming year-round and ultimately partner with others to serve a much wider audience than we could before at the original location.”

With all these great things about the Landis, what, if anything, is a challenge to its success?

Timmons says the single biggest obstacle is getting people to walk through the doors for the first time — because he’s confident they’ll come back for more. “From surveys we’ve done, we know that people are impressed with the theater. So all we need to do is get them to try it out.”

Linda Eder will appear Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. at the Landis Theater, 830 E. Landis Ave., Vineland. The concert is part of the Appel Farm at the Landis performance series. Tickets are $43-$65, (856) 691-1121.

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