A classy and much-needed celebration of the underappreciated composer-performer Laura Nyro comes in the month of what would have been her 60th birthday. Broadway star Judy Kuhn, the first Cosette in “Les Miserables,” has a voice that first matches Nyro’s tonality and then polishes the music just a wee bit; despite excluding two of her most famous songs, the 75-minute Joe’s Pub program not only encapsulates Nyro’s genius, it reveals the pliancy and uniqueness of her music.
Kuhn gives the evening over to Nyro, who died a decade ago, telling stories about her discovery by David Geffen, how her piano-tuner father bullied an audition for her with Bob Dylan’s publisher and, naturally, how most people know her music through versions by Three Dog Night (“Eli’s Coming”), the Fifth Dimension (“Stoned Soul Picnic”) and others. Kuhn was celebrating the release this month of her CD of the show, “Serious Playground,” on Ghostlight Records.
Nyro, a New Yorker and a child of the ’60s, uniquely blended Broadway and Motown, doo-wop and jazz with the occasional flair for hippy-dippy folk. Kuhn’s program, enhanced by a collection of superb arrangements, brought out the soulfulness of Nyro’s lyrics, neatly articulating the care-free attitude of some songs and the scars exposed on others. Nyro’s “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Eli’s Coming” were not part of Monday’s set — a blessing, really, as their absence allowed Kuhn to sink her teeth into a fine obscurity like “Been on a Train.”
“And When I Die,” the Blood, Sweat & Tears hit, was the only dramatically altered tune: Jeffrey Klitz added a New Orleans-style second line rhythm-and-horn chart to emphasize the celebratory nature of the chorus’s second line, “There’ll be one child born in this world to carry on.” Evening closed with the antiwar rallying cry “Save the Country,” which veered close to gospel without raising the roof, retaining the signature of the artist who crafted the work.