This tribute to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro has one more performance Monday night

By: Mar. 03, 2024
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At the beginning and end of Judy Kuhn’s passion project program at 92NY, she emphasized that she very much hoped that the material performed and background information would make new fans of its subject: Laura Nyro.  Well, it didn’t do that for me.  But that’s because I didn’t need to be initiated, persuaded, or convinced.   I came in already very much a longtime devotee of the artist in question.  The singer-songwriter, who passed away in 1997, has always moved me and intrigued me, her voice sending chills up my spine (in a good way).  And I have always been an admirer of Judy Kuhn, in her musical theatre work and other ventures, including her previous Nyro projects, which I’ve enjoyed on stage and on her CD titled Serious Playground.  The lavish and loving presentation booked for three performances in the first week of March, as part of the Lyrics & Lyricists series, makes a strong case for the Nyro oeuvre and her influence.

Judy Kuhn. Photo credit: Richard Termine
Judy Kuhn. Photo credit: Richard Termine

Lilting, joyful items such as “Stoned Soul Picnic” brought groove and grace.  Judy Kuhn’s super lovely and pure high tones showed off her vocal assets best.  The ballad “I Never Meant to Hurt You” was a major highlight for its beauty and emotional investment.  “Emmie” would have benefited from a little more passion, but “Lonely Women” was heartfelt and rich. “Mother’s Spiritual” was a touching duet between mother Judy and her own daughter, who uses the single stage name Sadie.  It was the first time they sang together publicly, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: here’s another graceful, attractive voice.  Singers Amanda Rose Gabriel and Nicole Morris shared even more vocal duties, doing backgrounds and harmonies and a few solo opportunities within the songs led by the star.

The repertoire chosen covered the breadth of the Nyro career, rather than relying too heavily on her earliest albums’ selections that became best known to the general public from being covered by other artists, such as The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night, and Barbra Streisand.  Scripted biographical information and photos projected on the stage wall gave context and insight, so that newcomers to the Nyro story wouldn’t have to just take Ms. Kuhn’s opinions and enthusiasm to consider.  Additionally, pianist-musical director Dan Lipton gave an ear-opening mini-lecture/demonstration about piano chords: traditional and Nyro-specific, for comparison.  Including Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” made the point of a specific imprint on style.

The band and the arrangements brought out the variety, verve, delicacy, and depth of the chosen pieces, never overwhelming the singing or the more complex, poetic lyrics.  I only wish that the cello were more prominently featured.  It was being played by masterful Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf and she enriched the melodies with extra elegance and dignity, but her contributions were sometimes almost lost in the mix among the seven players when all or most were participating forcefully. (I was a bit frustrated in that respect because I know how much she can add when properly spotlighted; I was bowled over by her gorgeous work on the sublime recording Music of Broadway for Cello and Piano and her presence elsewhere.)                 

Ending the program with all the singers joining in on “Save the Country,” and pointing out that the lyric’s plea and stance are as timely as ever, was an effective food-for-thought choice to leave the audience with.  And the legacy of Laura Nyro could not have a better champion than the admittedly “obsessed” Judy Kuhn, encouraging the attendees to experience the songs in the originator’s voice.  It seemed clear that she’s succeeding in expanding the membership of the Laura Nyro Appreciation Society,  Mission accomplished!

Tickets to tomorrow night's show are available here.

Find more shows at 92NY on their website.