She was only 12 when the music died. But the legacy lives on in how she and millions of others were touched by that music. That's why 27-year-old actress Kate Ferber wants to pass on the songs of the late singer-songwriter-pianist to the next generation through her one-woman show, "One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro," on Saturday (Sept. 22) at 8 p.m., at the Sellersville Theatre in Bucks County.
The show is a collaboration of The Laura Nyro Project, written by award-winning playwright Louis Greenstein, 56, Ferber's neighbor back in Lower Merion, and by Ferber, herself. It is a journey of passion, whimsy, humor and classic songs as portrayed by Ferber through 10 fictional characters whose lives were touched by Nyro's music.
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, artistic director of Colt Coeur theater company in New York, "One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro" has played to sold-out audiences at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater and The Laurie Beechman Theater in New York and World Café Live in Philadelphia.
"The audience is my partner," explained Ferber, who's been performing the show while juggling her acting career. "I can hear (Nyro) fans singing along. For those who aren't familiar with Nyro, they are able to experience who she was."
One such fan hooked on Nyro's music from the moment she first heard it is soprano Ilona Simon-Muller of California, whose piano tuner was Nyro's father, Louis Nigro, back in the late 60's-early 70's in New York City. She said she was so moved that she included Nyro's music into her own formal Carnegie Recital Hall concert of classical pieces and rock back in 1971, choosing "Poverty Train," "The Confession" and "Save the Country." She said it wasn't until after Nyro's death that she met up with Nigro who told her he had attended her concert and loved her rendition of "The Confession."
Simon-Muller is an accomplished singer of classical, Broadway and contemporary music. She sang with the New York City Opera and throughout the United States and Europe. She performed on Broadway in "Sweet Charity" and "Promises Promises," and was a protégée of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. She said she was fortunate to catch a Nyro concert at Carnegie Hall, calling it "one of the most memorable nights" at the venue. She described how Nyro's piano was set on a large, Persian rug with a small table next to it that held a vase of roses and a framed picture.
"I am assuming it was a photograph of her mother," Simon-Muller said. Nyro and her mother were said to have had a close relationship, and it was her mother who actually inspired her music by exposing her to the classics.
"Laura was a poet, like Bob Dylan," Simon-Muller said of the Bronx-born singer who was recognized this past April by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Her lyrics stand on their own, like poetry. …She proved the point I was trying to make in my concert joining rock and the classics…there is no time surrounding great music. She and Schubert had as much in common as did she and Dylan…great music is timeless and the "lieder" (songs) that opera singers sing are no more timeless than her songs."
Nyro (pronounced NEAR-oh) was known to experiment with different names in her early years, and it was Nyro at the time when Peter, Paul & Mary recorded her song, "And When I Die." She already had left a major imprint on music worldwide by the time she passed away from ovarian cancer in April 1997, at the age of 49. Her mother, Gilda Mirsky Nigro, died from the same disease and at the same age. Nyro had paved the way for female singer-songwriters and transformed contemporary music. Her legendary hits of the 60's and 70's, including "Eli's Coming," "And When I Die," "Save the Country" and "Stoney End," were recorded by Barbra Streisand, The 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Peter, Paul & Mary, Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson.
Kate Ferber, at age 13, never had a chance to meet the artist whose music she already had been drawn into playing on the piano, thanks to her own mother's varied tastes for music ranging from The Beatles to Joni Mitchell.
"Kids at high school never heard of Laura Nyro," Ferber recalled. "But it became a mission of mine to show how influential her music really was. …It's been an absolute dream to be performing the show."
Greenstein said he was impressed with Ferber's musical talent when she was 14 and appeared in a neighborhood synagogue's production of "Fiddler on the Roof." He knew of her passion for Nyro's music and worked on ideas with her while she was attending New York University. The result was a theater piece, "One Child Born," and The Laura Nyro Project.
As a musician and songwriter, Ferber has captured attention in the New York music scene and has performed both solo and with various artists and bands at Joe's Pub, Birdland, and the Beacon Theatre. Last month, she was part of "The Triple Goddess Twilight Revue: Celebrating the Music of Laura Nyro," at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park. Ferber performed Nyro's "Stoney End" in the company of such artists as Melissa Manchester and Melba Moore. Also among the performers was Nyro's brother, Jan Nigro, who Ferber said has shown "full support" of her one-woman show.
Ferber is the recipient of the 2012 ASCAP Foundation Desmond Child Anthem Award, given annually to a promising songwriter. (Child has co-written hits for KISS, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Michael Bolton, Cher and Ricky Martin, to name some. He acknowledges that his songwriting was influenced by the music of Laura Nyro).
For further info: thelauranyroproject.com
It's going to be a major weekend in Easton with the 16th annual Riverside Festival of the Arts (Sept 22-23) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and for the first time in two parks – Scott and Riverside – along the scenic Delaware River. The free event is presented by the Arts Community of Easton (ACE).
"This promises to be our biggest Riverside Festival," said Carol Benner, chair. To date, there are 60 artists and artisans who will be exhibiting and selling works. The juried show will award $1,600 in prizes in two categories, Fine Arts and Fine Crafts. Another festival highlight will be the Third Annual Plein Air Art Contest, with participants competing for $500 in prizes. The musical lineup for the weekend will feature the VooDUDES, James Supra Blues Band, and Philadelphia Funk Authority, with performance areas at the traditional Amphitheatre in Riverside Park and the new Dell in Scott Park. There also will be an expanded children's area with workshops, plus dance demos.
Mixed media artist Pam LaDuca, a past president of the festival, has organized this year's raffle. She also serves as liaison to the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, which will feature readings on both days. Among those scheduled are poets Diane Lockward and Ann E. Michael.
Free parking will be available at the Governor Wolf lot located across from Riverside Park.
Also happening in town will be Easton's Indie film festival, Movies at the Mill, featuring the work of regional filmmakers. The event takes place on the grounds of the Simon Silk Mill along Bushkill Creek.
Who is Dane Becker & the Chameleons? The name made me curious when I viewed the entertainment slate for a Fall Festival this Saturday (Sept. 22) at the Kutztown Fairgrounds. The festival is a fundraiser whose proceeds will benefit Austin's Fibromatosis Research Fund in partnership with the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation.
After tracking down Becker's mom, Danielle, I learned that he and two of his friends are avid jazz musicians who play almost monthly at the Bowers Hotel. Their practice takes place in Dane's basement. In addition to Dane on piano and alto sax, there's Nick DeOliveira on bass and Tanner Waidelich on drums.
Becker said Dane organized the jazz trio last year when funding cuts affected his school's music program and put a halt to student competitions at jazz festivals. She said the group's name was inspired by Herbie Hancock's funky jazz standard, "Chameleon." The boys further honed their jazz skills this summer by attending jazz camps at Moravian College and Albright College. She said their current mentors are music coaches Marty Mellinger and Pete Souders.
The boys favor the music of such jazz legends as Charlie Parker and Count Basie. Earlier this year, they attended a concert at the Berks Jazz Fest featuring new-breed jazz musicians, the Anat Cohen Quartet with jazz piano prodigy Eldar (Eldar E. Djangirov), at Reading Area Community College's Miller Center.
Can you believe that Dane and his fellow musicians are only 13 years of age and eighth-graders? Dane and Tanner attend Kutztown Middle School and actually met in the school band led by Carl Zeplin. Nick, who has known Dane since pre-school, attends Brandywine Heights Middle School in Topton.
"These kids have such dedication and talent," Becker said. "They're just amazing. I guess you can say we parents are the roadies."
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