Interview: Melissa Errico of Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times

Tony Award nominee Melissa Errico is a one-woman arts consortium with projects galore, thank goodness.

By: Dec. 04, 2020
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Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times Melissa Errico cannot be stopped. The Tony Award nominated actress has so much creativity inside of herself that her artistry flows from her like a year-round rolling stream of artistry. During the last nine months of the global health crisis, the wife and mother never stopped creating, releasing content on her social media and donating her time and artistry to organizations and group shows filmed for online broadcast. She has been an inspiration to people everywhere, not only during the pandemic but throughout her career.

When I heard about all the projects Ms. Errico has coming up in the next month alone, I reached out to the three-time Broadway World Award nominee to chat about her creative process, her home life, and when the heck she rests!

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced here without edit.

Melissa Errico, welcome to Broadway World, and thank you for chatting with us today! How are things in the McErricenroe household these days?

Excellent, given all the crazy. My older daughter Victoria continues to awe me with her determination and grit as a tennis player; my two younger daughters, the twelve-year-old twins, have been working hard dancing as rats in ... a green screen version of The Nutcracker. Just the other day, I bumped into them coming up the stairs as I was going down the stairs from performing in my green screen musical version of Meet Me In St. Louis. We're a house full of showgirls! My grandmother and great aunt, Ziegfeld girls themselves, spiritually hover over us.

You have kept yourself active in the most profound way this year - you did your at-home cooking videos, there have been online concerts, appearances in group shows online, and lately your #HowDoWeGoOnSinging videos. I have to ask the blunt question: where do you find the energy to do all of this and be a full-time mom?

Chronic insomnia! Seriously, I've never been one to rest unduly. I love to work, and people who know me best say I'm happiest when I'm working. Mothering is another kind of work - good work, productive work, joyous work. The two video series came about naturally - the first one, because I really didn't know how to cook, and put myself to work when I had to in the pandemic; I tried to make something joyous and instructive out of what might have been a chore. The "Singing" series happened because I cared about how we singers had all suddenly become toxic and I wanted to help re-moralize our community.

Your quest to create is so prolific - why is the work so important to you?

As I said, I am always happy when I'm working - I just hate sitting still. Meaning arrives when you make things. At an even deeper level, I'm a romantic and always aware of how we dance on the edge of oblivion and mortality, It was a life-changing experience, when I was an art history major in college, to study medieval attitudes towards mortality and realize that back then that not existing was part of existence. So defying fate with artistic energy is central to my belief system. In a way, it is my belief system. Somehow, I only feel fully alive when I'm working. (Well, a few other times, too, But that's the central one.)

You have a lot of things coming up, too. Let's talk about them in order:

On December 10th, you have a holiday concert titled SEASON OF JOY streaming from the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor - how excited are you to get back to live performing?

It's a joy, even if there won't be an actual audience. But getting dressed up, holding a mic, committing to a program and setlist - that's my working life. I've missed it.

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times

You recently did a live stream concert for fi:af that was in real-time but without an audience. Is that something you would encourage other singing actors to experience - working in a vacuum, without immediate audience feedback?

Well, FIAF I did with my collaborator, lyricist, and literary mentor, Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker essayist. We had such a good time. He was, as you noted in your generous review, representing the audience that wasn't there. So, I was playing to him, as he was speaking to me. It came out of an old joke of ours, that our collaboration might make a new wave French movie called "Il Parle, Elle Chante" - he speaks, she sings-- since over the years of our work together we've been exchanging roles. I write more and more and, though he doesn't sing, he does perform - even does his own one-man storytelling show. We constitute each other's audiences, even in the absence of one.

The day after your Bay Street concert, the Irish Rep will debut their online presentation of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. What does that project look like?

So funny you should ask! I've just finished a longish piece for the New York Times all about the process, so readers can find out every detail of the show, including my own determination to follow in the footsteps - or scandal-steps - of the great Mary Astor. The experience was, as I say in the piece, like being on the 1904 St. Louis Ferris Wheel - the technology connected us all, but it also left each of us alone in our own car, or Zoom window. It was a strange experience, though I hope with a beautiful result.

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times

You have a long, dedicated relationship with The Irish Rep. What, in your experience, is the leading quality at Irish Rep that keeps actors and audiences coming back, year after year?

Charlotte and Ciaran. Like any organization, it's all about the artistic leadership. I've done everything for them from Shaw to Harburg and hope to do even more as life returns to what we still call normal.

You are very loyal to certain artists and organizations, like The Irish Rep, Michel Legrand, Stephen Sondheim, and so many more. What is the importance of creating artistic homes in the business, comfortable places where one can create?

It means everything to me, and if there's one disappointment I've felt in life it's not having enough of them. I love finding homes and making them. I think you're known by your obsessions and by the company you keep, and I try to maintain a high standard in both. Seriously.

You played the Broadway production of White Christmas, but we haven't heard you sing any holiday music since - what are the chances Season of Joy might be recorded for a CD release?

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times My producer, Rob Mathes, and I keep talking about the next project, after Sondheim and Legrand - perhaps making a 'swing' standard record. Or, yes, perhaps a holiday album. But I'd have to find a special angle, or attack, on it. We'll see what we learn from the Bay Street concert. To be honest, I feel the special pressure of people like you, Stephen, to rise to the level that you believe I can achieve, or have sometimes in the past. One of the most important relationships in my life is with an audience of intelligent admirers. Writers and listeners like you who encourage me - whether you intend to or not! -- also put useful pressure on me not to disappoint, never to do anything that I know is ordinary or derivative or banal. I'm trying.

January 8th, you are releasing a special single - I'd love to hear more about that.

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times One of the backward blessings of the pandemic year is the chance to work at last with people you've admired at a distance. Now you can stay at a distance and still work with them and nobody objects! Lara Downes is a California based pianist and activist I've always wanted to connect with, and when we did it was to make a recording of the Arlen-Harburg classic, "Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe". We did it, with a political wink and a few new words, as a benefit for Broadway for Biden, but it was so pleasing that now we're releasing it flat out, in the classic form, as a record, timed around the inauguration. Lara is an amazing musician and collaborator, and we've become the tightest of soul sisters. She's engaged in the same adventure I am - struggling to mother, make music and find meaning on her own terms in a resistant, money-mad world.

In recent years you've developed a reputation for being quite a writer. Are there any plans for some more of the written word from The House of Errico?

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times I've now written six long pieces about the life of an actor for the TIMES, and I've been working on a book, which I tentatively (and self-mockingly) might call "Terminal Ingenue". It won't be a memoir, in the usual show biz sense, more a kind of "Eat, Pray, Sing!" about a woman searching for meaning in mid-life and mid-career. A continuation of my TIMES work -what does it feel like to be on this side of the footlights? (Answer: exactly what it feels like to be on that side of the footlights, except with the footlights on. My experience is like pretty much every mother's, except I get some of mine singing naked in a bath with a thousand people watching.) My next TIMES piece will be in print on Dec 6.

Melissa, you have proven, time and again, that there is no end to the many facets of artistry that you can create. Is there anything that attracts you but that you haven't tried yet, and are you going to give it a whirl?

That's what Adam Gopnik calls the Hot Ice Cream question. (He once asked two great 'molecular' chefs in Spain what they dreamed of cooking in the future, and they said instantly "Hot ice cream'.) So, what's my hot ice cream? In addition to the book - as if that isn't enough! - I'd like to write a play myself, perhaps a study of Sondheim in my life, like Bill Irwin's wonderful one-man show at the Rep about Beckett. Or perhaps a tour through the lives of the women I've admired, from Artemisia to Alma Mahler. I've been acting in plays all my life; it's time I wrote one.

One last thing before we say goodbye: what is your personal favorite when it comes to holiday music?

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times I enjoy so much - but in preparing this concert, I fell in love with a little Hanukah tune called "Ner Li" - it's sort of the "America the Beautiful of the Jewish holiday -not the anthem but the best song. And, wildly different, I've also come to love "Hard Candy Christmas" from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". It ought to be a ridiculous song, all about the girls in the brothel planning to get away for the holiday, but it's deeply moving, really about pain and bravery and persistence. That I live in both songs tells you... something.

Melissa, thank you so much for chatting with me today. You know I will be checking out all of your upcoming releases!

Thank you, Stephen. Can I go back to my YouTube rabbit hole, watching 1960s TV specials? Andy Williams & Dinah Shore Christmas show excerpts: I just LOVE this stuff! When I told a friend that my Bay Street holiday concert suddenly had a new song by Andrew Lippa, family, parodies, and Paulo Szot doing a duet, she started sending me wonderful & weird nostalgic videos! I'm hooked! December comes along, and days are dark- maybe darker this year than ever matter what songs you are singing or hearing, we are all looking for the same thing - the light, and how to keep it lit. Happy Holidays to you.

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times The Broadway World Awards are an audience award through which artists of the cabaret/concert community are nominated for and voted to receive accolades. Melissa Errico's fans have nominated her for BEST TRIBUTE SHOW, BEST RECORD, COMMERCIAL, and BEST LIVE STREAMED CONCERT. Votes for Melissa can be cast HERE.

Main photo of Melissa Errico and red evening gown photo by Jenny Anderson

Photo of Melissa Errico in White Christmas by Joan Marcus

For information and tickets to SEASON FOR JOY visit the Bay Street website HERE

For information and tickets to MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS visit the Irish Rep HERE

For updates on Melissa's recordings and appearances visit her website HERE and pick up a VINYL copy of Legrand Affair: Deluxe Edition when it is released this month.

Interview: Melissa Errico of  Bay Street Theater, Irish Rep, and the New York Times


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