The drizzle has stopped and the moon is brightening the sky above South Street in Morristown, NJ this Friday, September 17th evening. Music lovers mingle outside MPAC — the Mayo Performing Arts Center — before checking in for tonight’s 27th Season Kickoff performance by singer, actress, and recording artist Linda Eder.
Outside the historic theater where white tents have been set up for tonight’s kickoff event and illuminated with purple lights, we chat with MPAC’s GM Ed Kirchdoerffer about the venue’s spectacular upcoming season.
“We have a lot of highlights to talk about,” explains Kirchdoerffer, “including four nights of Steely Dan concerts, which the group usually does at the Beacon Theater.” These shows — which take place on November 3, 4, 6, and 7 — will feature live performances of the group’s seminal albums The Royal Scam, Gaucho, and Aja, in addition to a night of selected hits.
“We also have Pat Benetar and Neil Geraldo, Kenny Loggins, and Brian Wilson in October, in addition to several Broadway shows including the final tour of Rent in January, Beautiful in February, South Pacific in May, and Fiddler on the Roof in June,” adds Kirchdoerffer.
When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected MPAC, Kirchdoerffer responds, “We’ve been doing shows here since last October with a limited capacity of 150, so we’ve already had lots of time to test things out. We’ve invested in touchless features, upgraded our ventilation, and are also following the latest protocols, so we’re doing absolutely everything in our power to keep things safe.”
As friendly MPAC staff members greet patrons outside to check vaccination and photo identifications before ushering them into the theater, we chat with several music lovers here to celebrate MPAC’s season kickoff with Linda Eder.
Says Eileen from Toms River, “This is my first indoor concert. I saw every outdoor concert I could this summer,” before adding, “I’m so glad MPAC is opening back up — and I’m fine with wearing a mask.” Continuing, “It’s so exciting to see Linda Eder; I first saw her 20 years ago in concert,” Eileen also notes, “I’m very happy to be here supporting local theater.”
Robyn from Parsippany agrees, exclaiming, “Being back here again is fantastic — it’s time! It’s so great to have theater back, and MPAC is doing it safely.” Explaining, “I like the vaccination requirement — it’s a very simple and quick check-in,” Robyn adds, “I’m planning to see a lot of shows here; I’ve already purchased tickets to Pat Benetar, Rent, and The Beatles tribute, Rain.” Recalling,“I first saw Linda Eder on Broadway in Jekyll and Hyde — she was fantastic, and I’ve been following her ever since,” Robin adds, “and it’s especially wonderful to see her here at MPAC. It’s local, it’s close, and it’s a lovely theater.”
We make our way into the beautiful MPAC auditorium where the stage is set with a grand piano, a stand-up bass, a drum set, an electronic keyboard, and assorted wind instruments.
Following the showing of a portion of the film, Closed Until Further Notice — a pandemic-related documentary to be screened here on September 28 — MPAC President Allison Larena addresses the crowd announcing, “Welcome back to MPAC — we are so happy to see you again!” Reminding the audience that Linda Eder was supposed to open the season last year, Larena suggests that although “the last 18 months have been the most difficult in our history,” she recognizes all the guests who have continued to support the theater and thanks the members of the staff and all the behind-the-scenes people who “join together as one community to make your night special, safe, and healthy.”
Five musicians — pianist Billy Stritch, bassist David Finck, keyboardist James Olmsted, drummer Eric Halvorson, and saxophonist Aaron Heick — take the stage and briefly tune their instruments. The audience applauds as Linda Eder takes the stage. Stylish in her ensemble of black leather leggings and a long white blouse with flowing sleeves accentuated by a chic black vest, her beautiful face is framed by her natural gray hair.
Opening with “Almost Like Being in Love,” Eder’s full rich voice fills the theater on an uptempo arrangement that seamlessly transitions into a jazzy version of “This Can’t Be Love” which is greeted by cheers and applause.
Bassist David Finck plucks the intro to “The Best Is Yet To Come,” the swinging band contrasting nicely with Eder’s smooth vocal as the medley segues into a slow and sultry arrangement of “The Man I Love” and then into a rendition of “Just in Time” featuring an Eric Halvorson drum solo and a tasty Aaron Heick saxophone break.
Addressing the audience, Eder says, “Hi! How are you?” confessing, “I’m a little nervous,” joking,” I feel like a rusty old machine that’s been put away for one-and-a-half years!” After starting to sing the wrong song and joking, “I’m really rusty!” Eder performs a medley of “The Boy Next Door” and “You Made Me Love You,” showing her prodigious range and eliciting avid cheers and applause.
After describing Finck as “one of the best bass players in the world,” Finck’s slow, sensual bass line introduces “Stormy Weather.” Bending strings as Eder’s exposed voice bends along with the bass, the band joins in — the tinkling piano keys, wailing sax, electric keys, and steady drums — before Eder holds out a long note as Finck plunks away underneath her sultry vocal.
Following a medley of “Music That Makes Me Dance” from Funny Girl and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” Eder announces, “Judy Garland fans will know this next song as one of hers.” Billy Stritch expertly accompanies Eder on the piano as the pair opens “Me and My Shadow.” Eder sways gently as she sings, “Me and my shadow/Strolling down the avenue/Me and my shadow/Not a soul to tell our troubles to.” Soon, the rest of the band joins in, the piano cascading and the drums shuffling along to the bass and keyboard accompaniment.
Eder invites audience members to dance in their seats on a Latin-influenced arrangement of “You Go to My Head,” her bright, youthful-sounding vocal a direct result of her superb breath control.
She follows up by announcing, “This is from my all-time favorite musical.” Launching into one of several highlight performances of the evening, bowing bass, flute, and piano all combine to support Eder’s flawless vocal on “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
Her legato bell-like voice ringing out true and clear, Eder holds pure tones out as if painting with her voice, bringing the crowd to its feet with cheers and applause.
After exclaiming, “There’s nothing quite like live performance. Live is great!” Eder announces, “Let’s address the elephant in the room. I turned 60 years old,” joking, “My hair is half gray and half straw.” Explaining, “I went gray in my late 20s. I got tired of dying it so I let it go natural,” Eder laments, “Some people will love it and some will hate it,” to which one audience member shouts out, “It looks awesome!”
Eder performs a slow and sultry rendition of a song she considers “very risqué,” “Do It Again,” and follows up with a powerful upbeat interpretation of “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have Now” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
She continues with a picture-perfect tribute to Judy Garland on “The Rainbow’s End,” before launching into yet another highlight of tonight’s show — a live performance of “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde. Crooning, “If someone like you/Found someone like me/Then suddenly/Nothing would ever be the same,” Eder sings from the heart and touches the audience with her extraordinary talent.
The crowd stands and cheers and Eder beams while she thanks the audience.
Moving on to a riveting interpretation of “Losing My Mind” from Follies which has music lovers hanging on her every word, she then segues into an upbeat and jazzy version of Judy Garland’s “By Myself” before Aaron Heick plays piccolo on a bouncy rendition of “Before the Parade Passes By” which has audience members’ heads bopping and toes tapping.
After asking, “Anyone from Minnesota?” Eder confesses, “I like Jersey. I’ve done a lot of shows in Jersey.” Here, she tells a story about seeing Judy Garland on television when she was eight years old and deciding to become a singer. Eder performs an emotional rendition of Garland’s “The Man That Got Away” and follows up with a bittersweet interpretation of a song which reminds Eder of Garland, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”
A medley of Garland staples including “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “San Francisco,” and “The Trolley Song” elicits enthusiastic cheers and applause from the crowd. After introducing the members of her band, Eder performs an exquisite rendition of her power ballad, “Vienna,” that brings members of the audience to their feet.
Aaron Heick’s saxophone introduces Eder’s powerful Latin-style arrangement of “Man of La Mancha.” Singing high and free as the sax calls along, Eder makes the sign of the cross as she prepares for the climax of the number — a lingering high note — which she executes with perfection.
Audience members stand, applaud, and whistle for an encore as fans yell out, “We love you!”
Eder retakes the stage for an encore of Garland’s “Over the Rainbow.” On this simple but effective arrangement which features just piano and voice, Stritch makes the grand piano sound like an orchestra and Eder gives a master class in vocal technique and expression. The audience leaps to its feet even before the final note, after which Eder announces, “Be safe; I hope to see you again!”
As we make our way out of the theater and back onto South Street, we take a moment to chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s season kickoff event starring Linda Eder.
Remarks Patti from Harrisburg, PA, “Linda Eder was the perfect act to open MPAC’s season — she was phenomenal as always!” Jay from Harrisburg PA, agrees, noting, “This is our seventh time seeing Linda Eder. We traveled from PA to see her. It’s great to be back in the theater again.”
Eddie from Staten Island declares, “Linda Eder is an amazing talent and an incredible singer! Her voice is crystal clear and she’s so versatile.” Explaining “Seeing a live performance is incredible, but seeing a live Linda Eder performance is even more incredible,” Eddie confesses, “I was a bit nervous about coming back to a live show, but the staff here at MPAC made it so easy for us to feel comfortable.” Ron from Staten Island agrees, stating, “If anyone could get us out to the theater again, it would be Linda Eder. We’ve loved her since we first saw her in Jekyll and Hyde.”
Lastly, we chat with Erin and her daughter, Clare, from Bridgewater. Exclaims Erin, “Linda Eder was fantastic; what a powerful performance!” before adding, “She’s such a beautiful person and so down to earth, too.” Comments Clare, age 10, “She’s really good — and she has a really high voice!” adding, “This is my first time seeing her. It’s different from watching TV. I would come see her again.” Erin concurs, adding, “I’m so happy to be back at live performances,” explaining, “It’s experiences like this that are so crucial to our ability to feel OK,” before concluding, “This was just a wonderful, beautiful night!”
For further information about Linda Eder, please go to lindaeder.com. To learn more about other great performances at MPAC — including Pat Benetar and Neil Geraldo on Oct. 3, Kenny Loggins on Oct. 8, Brian Wilson on Oct. 13, and Steely Dan on Nov. 3, 4, 6, and 7 — please click on mayoarts.org.
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