Nobody does it Eder

Broadway diva Linda Eder talks of her longevity … and her drag queen imitators

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CHRISTMAS ANGEL | Singer Linda Eder will bring Christmas magic to her holiday concert at the Winspear and she’s hoping her gay fans will turn out. Being a Broadway diva with that voice — they likely will.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

The earliest evidence of what Linda Eder would become is available, of course, on YouTube: A video of Eder, maybe 19 or 20, singing Melissa Manchester’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” at the 1980 Miss Minnesota pageant. (She didn’t win the title.)

But Eder doesn’t blanch with embarrassment when confronted with this relic of her past. Now a responsible adult, she offers that Linda Eder career advice.

“There’s a whole list of things I’d tell her not to do,” she insists. “My advice would be to save more money. Don’t spend so much because you don’t really need so much.”

Eder turned 50 this year, and the wisdom earned from the passage of time is clear in her tone. She’s relaxed, professional and unfazed discussing the range of her career, whether working with her ex-husband on her last album Now or the drag queens that perform her work. But she does seem to get jazzed about one thing — longevity.

“What makes me proud of this album is just the fact I am here at 50 and making records,” she says. “I’ve been most fortunate to have this kind of career and I have a real sense of accomplishment with this album.”

Now, her 13th that dropped in February, reunited her with longtime collaborate Frank Wildhorn, the man behind Jekyll and Hyde — the musical that put Eder on the Broadway map. But Wildhorn is also Eder’s ex-husband (they divorced in 2004). Still, she describes the experience as drama-free.

“You know, it worked out fine and it really was easy. We stay in contact,” she says. “For this album, we brought back some of the same people from before.

Things were slightly different now that I’m my own entity if you will. There was a little more freedom but it wasn’t he ever made me do anything I didn’t want.”
After 20 years since her first release, Eder knows she’s not radio fodder, but she also knows her audience.

“I certainly hoped for this kind of career. Making records is fun,” she says.

“Fortunately people enjoy my voice.”

That, of course, includes her large contingent of gay fans. She understands the territory that comes with being a Broadway diva. Eder even relishes it.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have gay fans. They are my more lively audience and that’s why I love playing for them. I appreciate it so much,” she gushes.
Drag queens aren’t lost on her, either.

“Do you know that there is this drag show called Better than Eder? That’s so great,” she says.

She’ll likely introduce some of her new works when she returns to Dallas Sunday for her holiday concert at the Winspear. Eder helps ring in the season with The Linda Eder Holiday Show. Her Christmas Stays the Same CD from 2000 featured both original and traditional carols with that Eder touch; getting the chance to perform them on stage is what drives her at this time of year.

“You know, I’m an entertainer and doing these shows with talented people and musicians is just a fun hang,” she says. “It’s hard to believe still that I get to do this for a business.”

She’ll argue the celebrity label, but knows she is one in a certain sense. Eder doesn’t propose a false modesty either when asked about her past work. Instead, she actively strives for a sense of normalcy.

“I don’t think of myself [as a star],” she says. “I was driven early on and carved a niche career for myself but I found that I wanted to pull back to a level of success that was normal. I’m simply a musician. I might call myself a minor celebrity.”

Her fans might disagree.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Is Garland-raised country star LeAnn Rimes an LGBT ally or a phony hypocritical sellout whore?

From the ones we missed file, above is touching video footage of North Texas’ own LeAnn Rimes performing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles — led by guest conductor Tim Seelig — at a holiday concert last month. Rimes, who grew up in Garland, is overcome with tears as she talks about the gay youth suicide crisis before teaming with the chorus for a beautiful performance of “The Rose.”

Fast forward to tonight, when Rimes is performing again – this time at a fundraiser for (gasp!) House GOP freshmen. As Queerty notes, the fundraiser is being hosted by California Rep. Jeff Denham, who, while a state senator, repeatedly voted against recognition of marriages from other states. And the $2,500-a-plate fundraiser is designed to re-elect lawmakers who undoubtedly will help block consideration of any pro-LGBT legislation — including a federal law to protect gay kids from bullying in public schools — for the next two years.

So, to rephrase the question from the headline, should the LGBT community have learned something about Rimes from her extramarital affair with Eddie Cibrian?

—  John Wright

Review: Turtle Creek Chorale’s ‘O Holy Night’

Last year, the Turtle Creek Chorale performed their holiday concert — because they kinda had to — at the newly opened Winspear Opera House. It was not a success. The acoustics in the hall did not suit choral voice. The hall, larger than the Meyerson, was not filled. The show itself was goofy, with a plot-line (I’ve forgotten what) that wasn’t very funny.

Artistic director Jonathan Palant has said this year’s concert was a kind of greatest hits — favorite songs from past seasons — as well as a homecoming to the Meyerson. And it’s not a funny show … or at least, not filled with shtick. It’s a classic holiday concert, and one well worth seeing. The final performance is tonight.

Of course, there’s the finale, “Silent Night/Peace, Peace,” which includes a soundless verse performed by the entire chorus in American Sign Language; there’s Santa (one of the best out there); there is the poinsettia dedication (182 now fill the stage representing past members). But there are few gimmicks (just the ones we like, such as flamboyant performances by a few members set to the tune “Single Ladies” and the snow effect that ended Act 1). Still, it’s not a somber concert, just a beautiful one; at intermission, I overheard several attendees remark how they enjoyed sticking with the music (Palant himself noted from the podium that he’s not the funniest guy when he’s unscripted) — and they were right.

The performance of “Auld Lang Syne” stood out most of all, as it takes a tune we think we are familiar with an added a lovely, ethereal quality with a tin whistle accompaniment that left a haunting memory in the auditorium. It’s a great way to spend an evening before the holidays.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

On the road to Tyler with the Turtle Creek Chorale

Gay men’s chorus went to East Texas prepared for protest, but instead found a warm welcome

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

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NEW IN TOWN | Members of the Turtle Creek Chorale get off the bus in Tyler for their concert at First Presbyterian Church. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

TYLER — After their trip to Spain last summer, Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Jonathan Palant invited me to join them on their next trip. With expenses approved, I was ready. Little did I know that the group’s next tour would be a bus trip to Tyler.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, I accompanied the chorale members as they traveled to East Texas for an out-of-town tryout of their upcoming holiday concert.  One chorale member on the bus assured me, “It’s just like Spain — except nothing like it at all.”

Controversy surrounded the Tyler trip since the church that was originally to host the concert rescinded the invitation. That happened after several large donors threatened to pull their support, causing Marvin Methodist Church to inform the chorale they were no longer welcome to perform there.

But nearby First Presbyterian Church stepped in and welcomed the group to perform a concert as part of that church’s December music and fine arts series.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, the Chorale left from Cathedral of Hope at 2:30 p.m. in two buses. Several members drove separately.

The group started off for Tyler with at least a little nervousness. Demonstrators had protested the performance of The Laramie Project in Tyler over the summer.

The play about Matthew Shepard recalled a similar incident that occurred in Tyler in 1993 when Nicholas West was kidnapped and murdered in Bergfeld Park. On World AIDS Day this year, a plaque was unveiled in the park memorializing West’s death. That mere placing of a marker to remember a murder also stirred controversy in this East Texas city.

And the demonstrators had threatened to return to protest Saturday night’s chorale performance. Singers said that threat was on their minds as they drove to East Texas that afternoon. In its 31-year history, the chorale has never been protested.

When the buses pulled up to the church right off of Broadway, Tyler’s main street, only church staff greeted the chorale. No protesters in sight.

Chorale members retrieved their garment bags from under the buses, filed into the church, laid their concert attire down over the pews and quickly gathered at the pulpit to begin blocking and rehearsing.

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GETTING READY | The Turtle Creek Chorale rehearses at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler before their performance there Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Several songs got full run-throughs. The singers’ entrance and exit from the pulpit-turned-stage was quickly improvised. Small groups like Encore, soloists, a drum group and a tambourine quartet figured out how they would make their way from various positions among the chorus to front and off-center on the main floor.

Betelehemu, a Nigerian Christmas song, required foot motion and hand gestures during the performance. A few members weren’t coordinating their motions. Palant suggested those singers only do the hand gestures. A second run-through of the song went smoother.

At 6 p.m., the church served dinner in the Fellowship Hall. By 6:50 p.m., most of the singers were upstairs in the classrooms, changing into their tuxedos.

I checked the sidewalks around the church. Still no protesters.

The pews were already filling up.

At 7:10 p.m., everyone met in the chapel behind the main sanctuary. Don Jones, who signs every concert for the hearing-impaired, rehearsed the group’s signing of Silent Night.

Then Palant reviewed what he called stage etiquette.

“Jackets unbuttoned,” he said.

Someone joked that was because Palant could no longer button his.

“Never applaud our own singers,” Palant said. “Smile.”

Don’t wipe tears. Emotion is good. Wiping is distracting. Place hands down when jazz hands aren’t required.

For the chorale, no gesture, no motion, no entrance on stage goes unrehearsed.

Before leaving the chapel, everyone joined hands for a pre-performance chorale ritual: Palant said the Jewish prayer of thanks that marks special occasions called Shehechianu.

He said the prayer was a favorite of his in his own tradition and it became a chorale tradition in his second season. Members embraced it and several explained its beauty to me.

Palant told the singers that this concert was an example of “the power of harmony to tear down walls.”

Some audience members had arriving early because of a mix-up in the newspaper. The Patriot Singers and Chorale of UT Tyler were scheduled at 6 p.m. the following night. The newspaper switched the Dallas group and UT’s appearances.

When told who tonight’s performers were, one couple left. Another several shrugged and decide to stay anyway.

By 7:30 p.m., the sanctuary was standing room only. Although no protesters showed up outside the church, the audience was as aware of the controversy as the chorale.

Cecily Luft is a board member of the church. She said that two weeks earlier, the chapel where the chorale was now gathered was the site of a World AIDS Day service and the dedication ceremony for the Nicholas West plaque.

Rabbi Neal Katz from Tyler’s Congregation Beth El and the Rev. Stuart Baskin, First Presbyterian’s pastor, conducted the service, said Luft. Sheriff Lupe Valdez also spoke at the event in the church.

Luft said that when Music Director Donald Duncan told the board about what happened at the Methodist church down the street, they unanimously voted to invite the chorale to perform there.

“Gay” never entered the discussion, she said.

“This is the most gay-friendly church in Tyler,” Luft said. “It just was never an issue.”

Then she boasted, “And we have the best acoustics in Tyler.”

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READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Turtle Creek Chorale members dressed for performance wait to begin their concert at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The acoustics were magnificent in the church and the chorale sounded best from the choir loft or balcony at the rear of the church.

After the chorale filed into the sanctuary and sang its first number, Deck the Halls, Duncan welcomed the group to Tyler.

“Despite the controversy surrounding your venue, we are very glad you are here,” he said. “As you can see by the crowd, a whole lot of people in Tyler are welcoming you, too, and you are welcome back anytime.”

His remarks were interrupted by applause several times.

Later in the concert, Palant introduced several people, including the group Tyler Area Gays, which filled several rows and had done much of the publicity for the event. Loud applause from the crowd greeted Tyler’s gay group.

Duncan acknowledged NPR reporter Wade Goodwin, who was there working on a piece about the chorale for Public Radio.

The audience took Palant’s jokes in good humor, including calling Tyler “the bastion of liberalism,” although his question, “Are there any Latin scholars here?” met silence followed by uneasy laughter.

Throughout the show, the applause was warm, but Betelehemu brought a number of audience members to their feet. If any of the swaying on stage was not coordinated, no one noticed.

After the concert, CD sales were brisk.

One audience member filing out of the church made a point of saying, “We’re Methodists and we loved it,” indicating that not everyone at Marvin Methodist agreed with that church’s decision to uninvite the group.

On the return bus trip to Dallas, everyone was excited about the day.

“I thought it was a great performance,” said chorale member Kevin Hodges. “I told a woman who said ‘thank you’ that it’s a joy for us.”

“I was choking back tears,” said singer Gene Olvera. “Invigorating,” added Darrin Humphrey, another chorale member.

“To me, it’s the sort of thing that made me stay in the chorale 17 years,” said C. E. Bunkley. “There’s purpose to it.”

Palant told the riders in his bus that he wants to do another out-of-town performance next year in another city that might not be completely welcoming.

He said that unlike many other gay men’s choruses around the country, the chorale gets out of the gay ghetto: “That’s part of our mission.”

“It was fun,” said chorale President Dean Baugh. “Up until the point I looked out and people were crying.”

“I was very proud,” said singer Hank Henley.

On the return bus ride, chorale members discussed the lack of protesters. Several suggested that as much as some might have been offended by the chorale’s appearance in town, maybe that group has more shame than Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro clan and just wouldn’t protest a church.

Palant commented on the energy he felt from both the audience and his group. “As a performer, you perform with your dukes up,” he said. “You puff up your chest and it influences the performance. Tonight was a good example. They fed off our energy and we fed off theirs. We wanted to give them more.”

He said he consciously did not bring up the controversy of the location but was glad that Duncan had.

“I wanted to make an issue of it earlier on,” said Stephen Tosha, the chorale’s senior executive director. He said he wanted the chorale to move more in that direction.

But singer DiMarcus Williams summed up why most of the members of the chorale devote so much time and energy and why they spend so much of their own money to continue performing with the group.

“It was nice to be performing in front of such a welcoming and receptive audience,” said Williams.

Turtle Creek Chorale Holiday Concert, Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. $30–$67. TurtleCreek.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas