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THEATER : A TALE FOR TWO : 'Jekyll & Hyde' Deals in Pairs, Onstage and Off

August 17, 1995|JAN HERMAN | Jan Herman covers theater for the Times Orange County Edition.

Pop composer Frank Wildhorn's rented condo in Woodland Hills has a transient, impermanent, semi-lived-in look. Two thousand miles away, his main squeeze, pop singer Linda Eder, is living out of a garment bag in the Dallas Marriott.

They met seven years ago at the Actors Equity Building in New York City. It was love at first hearing.

"I heard a voice like I'd never heard in my life," he says.

"I was drawn to the music," she says.

Eder--a tall, raven-haired Minnesota farm girl who'd never been to New York before--had come to audition for a role in his new musical, "Jekyll & Hyde." Wildhorn--a born Manhattanite with an infectious smile--had flown up from Florida, where he was producing a rock album by the group China Sky.

Theirs was a whirlwind courtship. "I didn't expect it," she says. They've been a couple ever since, living together for the last five years in Los Angeles when not on the road. Their careers have meshed nicely too.

She has a couple of solo albums out, "Linda Eder" (RCA) and "So Much More" (Angel), both of which he wrote and produced. He has a national touring production of "Jekyll & Hyde" opening Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, on its way to Broadway. Eder co-stars.

Does life get much better than that?

Apparently it does.

They have recorded two studio albums of "Jekyll & Hyde" and a third album of his songs for "The Scarlet Pimpernel," which is another Wildhorn musical based on a classic literary work and aimed at Broadway. (The "Pimpernel" deal was signed a few weeks ago.)

Plans are also underway to mount a third theatrical vehicle for Eder, a Wildhorn musical called "Svengali." And Atlantic Records, where he recently became an executive for its new theater label, has signed Eder to record her third solo album.

But while her star is on the rise, the singer, who is 34, has her feet planted firmly on the ground. "I think show business in general is a kind of unnatural environment," she said the other day from Dallas, where "Jekyll & Hyde" just ended a two-week shakedown run.

"I just wish I could be transported from the farm to the stage and back again without all the steps in between. I love it onstage and I love it in the middle of a field. I don't like all the in-between stuff. The more successful you get, the less it becomes about the singing."

Eder, a self-taught performer who had never sung in public until she was 17, first came to wide notice on "Star Search" in 1988. She had been singing in local Minneapolis clubs when she found out about an audition for the nationally televised program.

She tried out on such short notice, Eder recalls, that she didn't have time to get nervous. "In fact, the day I auditioned I had a horse show," she said. (Eder has raised and ridden horses since childhood.)

"I was in the show ring at 12:20 and had my audition at 12:30. I ran up on the stage and sang Marvin Hamlisch's 'Ice Castles' and 'Memory' from 'Cats.' "

Eder went on to sweep the "Star Search" competition in Los Angeles for 12 consecutive weeks. In the finals, she won the $100,000 grand prize. (With her winnings she bought a piano and a 40-acre Minnesota farm to raise quarter horses. She also loaned "a good chunk" to her folks, she said.)

A seasoned concert-style singer, Eder has the pipes to belt or croon. And the soaring "Jekyll & Hyde," melodies Wildhorn has given her demand both; she plays Lucy, a prostitute who loves Jekyll and is abused by Hyde.

Several of her songs from the show have already gained an international following: "Someone Like You," "A New Life" and especially "This Is the Moment," which became the unofficial anthem of the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics. (Nancy Kerrigan, among others, used it in the ice-skating competition.) It was used again last year as a theme song for the National Football League.

Eder originated the Lucy character opposite Chuck Wagner, who had the dual title role in the 1990 world premiere at the Alley Theatre in Houston. She has played Lucy twice since, opposite Robert Cuccioli. He portrayed Jekyll and Hyde last winter at Houston's Theatre Under the Stars and again at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.

Cuccioli is reprising the title role for this tour. He made his Broadway debut in 1993 as Javert in "Les Miserables" and created the title role in the Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit "Phantom," originally commissioned by Theatre Under the Stars.

"Jekyll and Hyde is probably the largest male role in musical theater," Cuccioli said. "It's larger than the Phantom. I sing more songs. I play two characters. And I'm constantly on stage. When I'm off stage, it's only to change costumes."

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