Album Review: Melissa Errico, Stephen Sondheim, and The City Make For One Great Album

Sondheim sublime, Errico triumphant.

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Album Review: Melissa Errico, Stephen Sondheim, and The City Make For One Great Album
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The album opens with the simple, straightforward, astute sophistication of the Melissa Errico to whom we have all become accustomed and who we all love.  What more do I need to enjoy a new album?  The wonderful thing about Melissa Errico is that her intellect and refinement are so much a part of who she is that she doesn’t have to dress it up - all she has to do is bring it into the room.   Also, all she has to do is adorn those qualities with the right colleagues.  Tedd FirthMichel Legrand.  Isabelle Georges.  Adam GopnikStephen Sondheim.

This is Errico and Sondheim… and New York City.

Melissa Errico has informed past shows and albums, writings and conversations, in fact, her whole life with ongoing conversations with and about Mister Sondheim and Manhattan (among other things but, for the sake of this article, SS and NYC).  Her new album SONDHEIM IN THE CITY is a tribute to both, but it is also a tribute to Melissa Errico, to the art forms of cabaret and vocal storytelling, and to collaboration.  With her longtime esteemed Musical Director (well, one of, at least, but one with whom she is most often associated), Ms. Errico has taken some of our favorite Sondheim songs (ok, some of mine but, hopefully, some of yours, too) and not quite reinvented them but, rather, repurposed them to suit the city, whether it is this one or another.  With Mr. Firth’s fine jazz treatments for songs from not-quite-exclusively Manhattan-based musicals, Melissa Errico has captured the feel of the Metropolitan lifestyle that Stephen Sondheim very clearly adored, and wanted to bring to life in his stories.  The listener of the music of Melissa’s burg will feel the concrete beneath their feet, envision the lights of the horizon line, and live (for 57 sublime minutes) inside of the most magical reveries of the city.

Sondheim In The City begins like a sunrise, appropriately enough, with a seldom-sung “Dawn” - which Errico’s visceral and descriptive liner notes remark upon, and, like the NYT pieces she has written, the liner notes are exquisite, so those wondering whether to stream, download, or make a purchase, you might want to, please, consider the liner notes (the CD booklet is sumptuous).  With songs from Company (“Another Hundred People” and “The Little Things You Do Together”) we are given a chance to hear the sounds of town in Tedd Firth’s rhythms.  I mean, did you ever think anyone could, should, or would sing “... Hundred… “ any other way than it was written for The Play Company?  That original arrangement is part of the character of the song, embodying the fast pace of the city.  But Firth and Errico have proven those of us who have thought that way wrong with an intricate rethinking of the song that still maintains the speed of NYC, only it’s a new speed, a new rhythm, a new vibe - maybe for a new time.  The arrangement retains enough of the original feel to keep the purists happy, while layering in Lewis Nash’s drums and Melissa Errico’s heartbeat in a manner that freshens it all up enough to make the Errico enthusiasts clasp their hands in excitement.

The usually lush and opulent “Take Me To The World” remains a Want Song but with less longing and more adventure, as a rolling jazz arrangement featuring gorgeous guitar (Matt Munisteri and Rob Mathes are named on the CD booklet) inspires visions in the brain of Melissa Errico twirling as she beckons you to come with her, the Pied Piper of Musical Theater, on a romp…  and wherever it is she is going, you will go.  Back-to-back compositions for the musical play Anyone Can Whistle provide something (wisely) traditional (the title track) and something so wonderfully different that could be a painting hanging on the wall at MOMA (“Everybody Says Don’t”).  Errico and Firth’s choice to stay straight with “Anyone…” and, yet, to go radically off the rails with “...Don’t” was brilliant because 1) it is authentic to Errico and 2) it is the kind of thing that Sondheim did in his own work.

Album Review: Melissa Errico, Stephen Sondheim, and The City Make For One Great Album

It wouldn’t be a Metropolitan story without Merrily, and Melissa delivers, with a snippet of one tune (“Opening Doors” marvelously mashed with “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night) and a “Good Thing Going” that stays true to the OG performance, except that the Firth treatment is more optimistic and realistic with guitar, drums, and precisely placed piano playing lifting the lilting voice of Melissa Errico and cradling it in ways perfect and pretty.  And a New York-centric Sondheim album would have to feature Follies, since The Great White Way features so very prominently in that show's story, so, naturally, Errico and co. have chosen “Broadway Baby” (nicely done) to represent the play.  However, to make the Follies journey a full one, the team opted in the original production’s excised  “Can That Boy Foxtrot?” and the 1987 UK revival’s update “Uptown, Downtown” (sigh - the horns!) and the trio of songs fit the mood, the theme, and the Errico aesthetic to the letter, especially with David Finck’s bass adding the sensuality and attitude to be found around every New York corner and every Melissa Errico album.  All, in fact, of the musicians on the album upped the ante, and it shows, as does the mixing by Alex Venguer and the mastering by Scott Hull.  It's a dream ream surrounding Melissa and the personal friend she called "Steve."

On this 57-minute recording, Errico et al do themselves proud, they do Mr. Sondheim honor, and they do The City just right.  But let’s be honest, here: Melissa Errico always does it just right.  And I’d like to leave some surprises for the listener, so I’m not going to analyze every song, not going to opine on every track, I’m simply going to confine myself to saying that producer Rob Mathes and Concord Theatricals have a triumph on their hands with Sondheim In The City, an album that should make Sondheim lovers out of Errico fans, and Errico devotees out of Sondheim aficionados.  It is definitely an album to put on your ‘must have’ list.

Melissa Errico SONDHEIM IN THE CITY releases February 16th on the Concord Theatricals label.  Find all the online outlets HERE.


Visit the Melissa Errico website  HERE.

Melissa Errico is performing in New York City right now at Birdland in a show titled “A Manhattan Valentine”; Feb 16 & 17 shows are album release concerts; Feb 14, 15 & 18 shows will be Sondheim alongside classics by Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Billy Joel.  For tickets click HERE.


 



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