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BWW Interview: Melissa Errico of MELISSA ERRICO SINGS HER NEW YORK at Feinstein's/54 Below October 16th

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"I heart-check my shows before I do them."

BWW Interview: Melissa Errico of MELISSA ERRICO SINGS HER NEW YORK at Feinstein's/54 Below October 16th One of the industry's most endearing and enduring musical storytellers, Melissa Errico has used her work as a cabaret and concert performer to breathe life into one-of-a-kind shows that balance whimsy with intellect, hilarity with empathy, music with conversation, and always in a style so unique, so personal, so original that they might as well make a blueprint of that style for other artists to follow when creating their own acts. After successful and lauded solo shows following the themse of Stephen Sondheim and Michel Legrand, Ms. Errico recently returned to her nightclub home-away-from-home, Feinstein's/54 Below, with a new exploration in cabaret artistry.

Working with author Adam Gopnik, Melissa Errico is using literature and lyrics, music and memories, and a diary from her youth to pay tribute to her home, her beloved New York City. After a sold-out opening night that included a guest appearance from fellow 54 Below family member Paulo Szot, Melissa found herself booked into the supper club for a repeat visit, this time with fellow Tony Award nominee Max von Essen. Before her encore performance on October 16th, Melissa and I chatted via email about the creation of her New York-themed musical cabaret play, about her life in Manhattan, and the women who inspire her, from her mother to her daughters, with a fellow Broadway chanteuse along the way.

This interview was conducted digitally and has been reproduced without edits to Ms. Errico's answers.

Melissa Errico, welcome to Broadway World! I'm so happy to get to do this interview which, in the name of full transparency, we are doing via email because our mutual schedules are not cooperating with our telephone time. How the heck are you?

Managing! Flourishing, really. Though the end of the pandemic has us all thrown for a loop - we were hoping for normalcy and instead got uncertainty.

Bizarrely, I was working as hard as I ever have throughout the pandemic - Jonathan Schwartz called me 'the blur' on his radio show - but it of course was live streams and remote events and recording sessions. I put out a couple of 'singles' during the lock-down time that I liked a lot. (Alec Wilder's "Blackberry Winter" and Arlen and Harburg's "Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe" With a little political wink: HERE.) But - it's beyond a joy to be getting back on stage. I think we're all checking our hearts and hats to make sure we still have them.

You have a brand new show that recently debuted at 54 Below titled Melissa Errico SINGS HER NEW YORK. You are that rare, wonderful thing - a native New Yorker. When someone talks about "Melissa Errico's New York" what are some of the elements and aspects that will make up that picture?

Yes, I was born here-and was then hustled off to the suburbs when I was seven and have been getting back ever since. The show is really about all those elements: longing for the stage and worshipping the actors in "Chorus Line" and "On Your Toes" and then about struggling to find a place there yourself. If there's a key it may be in a beautiful statement from Laura Nyro - about how she, a middle-class girl at Ethical Culture, would descend into the subway to sing harmonies with the Doo-Wop groups who gathered there, and the gratitude she felt when they didn't kick her out! Singing harmonies with strangers. That's New York for me. You struggle to sing harmonies with strangers, and (sometimes) they let you stay.

How old were you when you discovered the depth to which a person's love of New York can go?

Sixteen, when I would go alone on the train from Manhasset to Manhattan - beautiful juxtaposition of names - and change clothes at the Hotel Edison to do auditions. I realized that people watching me must have thought I was a real Jodie Foster style child-hooker. But I was just in love with the theater.

What does the cross-pollination of your childhood and teenage New York look like, alongside your grown-up New York?

Like everyone, New York for me gets dulled by routine - or did. I rush into the city now, still doing auditions and working on shows and rehearsing with my wonderful coach, Phil Hall. But I still feel that inner thrill of disbelief and excitement when I glimpse the skyline, and my head now is filled with every kind of memory: joy, heartbreak, childbirth...I was so tickled when I took my girls past my first apartment building in the West Village, where I found a studio after the guy who had it before me 'went missing' and was never found, and the doorman still remembered me! And remembered my persistent singing!

BWW Interview: Melissa Errico of MELISSA ERRICO SINGS HER NEW YORK at Feinstein's/54 Below October 16th

You have a close association with another devotee of Manhattan, Adam Gopnik: is there a chance you two might collaborate on something about New York together? Like the series of France-themed concerts you did for FIAF?

Well, Adam was intimately involved with the structure of this show, so in a sense this show is our New York response to our previous Paris preoccupations. We batted quotes and favorite songs back and forth, looking for things that were New York that might not seem so obviously New York. (Like Joni Mitchell's glowing "Chelsea Morning "or Georgia Stitt's "Wanting of You" which is very specifically set in New York but is about a universal heartbreak.) Even during the pandemic, though, he's always traveling, and we never end up in a room together. So I was pleased when, out of the blue, he sent me -- from Paris, where he had gone to collect his Legion d'honneur, the highest French award, civilian or military; we celebrated it on stage at FIAF! - anyway, from Paris, he sent me three parody lyrics of New York songs, specially adapted for the pandemic. I swooned at the lines to the music of Rodgers & Hart's "Manhattan": "Hot panty bodies? Now, just your antibodies count. Show me Moderna proof/or else we stay aloof/ head to hoof."

And of course, the musical Adam wrote with David Shire, which I helped develop, "Our Table", is all about New York; in fact, when we recorded it live at 54, Adam said ruefully that he discovered that it wasn't about the politics of food at all, as he had thought, but about the changing city! Maybe we'll go back to it. Musicals are never really finished, you know, just abandoned for a time.

Hear "Our Table" HERE.

In your show, you are sharing some personal stories from your life as a New Yorker and a New York actress. Are there any reminiscences about the parallels between your work and that of one of the other great actresses of Broadway and cabaret, Christine Andreas?

I adore Christine. She was more responsible than anyone for my career because it was seeing her in "On My Toes" that was my stage epiphany. She's also starred in a Broadway "My Fair Lady", as I have, and has become a good friend. In fact, she called me this week to get through to my dad, a doctor-pianist, because she had an orthopedic question. My Dad then spent an hour on the phone with her. He says to me "Yes, I talked to Eliza! Nice woman." Oh, she is.

In your work as a Kabarettist, you have explored many themes and composers. One of the things you tend toward is stories by and about strong and interesting women. Is this a focus that comes to you naturally, as a woman storyteller, or did you have a strong female influence growing up?

My mother! ... in fact, there's a song on YouTube HERE with lyrics by Adam Gopnik and music by Peter Mills about our relationship, called "My Mother Sang Through Me" - all about our complicated braiding together as I grew up and tried new roles. It's a favorite of mine, and I should revive it.

But throughout my life I've had strong woman influences: Charlotte Moore of the Irish Rep is another. And there are so many women in the theater world I look up to! I've worked with Jeanine Tesori once, and I have sung her music in concert. I'd love to work with her again. I'm so hopeful to meet Diane Paulus! I interviewed Rachel Chavkin once & she's riveting. All these are my dreamgirls! Georgia Stitt's music is becoming a more regular part of my fabric. I moderated an event about gender for the American Songbook Foundation this year and I had Vicki Clark on my panel. I sensed we will have a thrilling time when we get into a room and can get to work. And this summer I worked with Susan Stroman, and it was a palpable relief in my body to fulfill that dream. She has such a mastery and confidence over every aspect of what she wants.

And then this New York show at 54, as I only realized as I finished putting it together, is really a tribute to New York women! I didn't do it consciously, but when I went back over the set list there were... Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Fields and Marcy Heisler and Georgia Stitt and Laura Nyro and Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell....it wasn't deliberate, but it was pleasing to see that my head is a haunted house of New York women-artists!

You are a devoted mother raising only daughters, often publicly on your social media. You're also a profound writer - would you ever consider writing a book about the mother-daughter relationship and your own experience as a mom?

Oh, now you're making me feel guilty! I keep getting myself sidetracked by concerts and cabarets, but I am working on a book, which will take my TIMES series, "Scenes From An Acting Life" and amplify them. And of course, my relationship with my mother, and my daughter's relationship with me, will be central to it...it's tricky, of course, because my daughters' experience is theirs, and you don't want to poach it or embarrass them. (Just posting family photographs is a bit of a negotiation!). But I did publish a longish piece about how our family life in the pandemic got intertwined with the reading of and I think that will become a chapter in the book. (Along with a lot of saucy and mischievous back-stage stuff! I promise: The book won't be a mommy-bore!)

Read Melissa's writing HERE and HERE.

You have been with your musical director Tedd Firth for a long time, and we have seen how devoted you were (and are) to Michel Legrand. How did you develop your sense of the importance of loyalty, especially in a business where some can tend toward the fickle?

I think that loyalty - to a fellow artist, or a friend, is the foundation of life. Of course, I'm blessed that Tedd is so loyal to me, and shows up when I need him, despite all the other singers who do as well...he's in huge demand. In my fantasy world, I live in a three-story townhouse in Manhattan and Tedd has the bottom floor to play in, so I can drop in whenever. Tedd is a unique poet, with a poet's unpredictable emotions. He can seem absent, not quite paying attention - and then suddenly he's so present that my breath is stopped by the sympathy and truth of what he's playing. Not 'for me' but with me! He's not an accompanist! He's like a romantic partner. Our feelings become intertwined and entangled. It's one of the great experiences of my life, and it keeps happening.

You are always very open, in your shows, on your social media, about your life, your philosophies, the lessons you've learned, and the people who have affected your journey. What is the philosophy by which you live that informs your decision to share all of who you are with us?

I think it's John Updike who said that writing can accept any amount of egotism as long as there isn't any narcissism to spoil it. Art of every kind is all about making private life public. My favorite writers, Joan Didion and Nora Ephron and Anais Nin, all write about 'all of who they are'. So, do my favorite songwriters: they may write through characters, but who doesn't feel Stephen Sondheim's lonely perfectionist heart pouring out in "Finishing The Hat" or Oscar Levant's personal pain in "Blame It on My Youth"? It's the complete unimpeded candor of a writer like Nora, about breasts and divorces and men and kids, that makes us love her - along with her chin up humor that never lets it descend from charm into self-pity. I try to emulate all that, in my performing as well as in my writing. You know how magazines 'fact-check' pieces before they're published? Well, I heart-check my shows before I do them...is this true, I ask? I want each beat to ring with emotional truth even if I seem naked. (Well, not naked! Open and vulnerable.)

BWW Interview: Melissa Errico of MELISSA ERRICO SINGS HER NEW YORK at Feinstein's/54 Below October 16th

Melissa, what's the song you sing most often - around the house, in the car, in the shower, doing dishes - is there one that comes more easily to you than any other? And do you have an inkling why that's the one?

Oh, that's a hard one! I have certain anthems I suppose. "How Are Things in Glocca Morra", which I've sung so often on stage, and even more often to my girls as a lullaby. It's a more complicated song than you might think-it's nostalgic in form but it's about a non-existent place, the place we long for in the future as much as in the past. But for inner importance, it would have to be Mr. Sondheim and I think it might be "Move On". It's not one I sing around the house as much, but its core wisdom - "Anything you do/let it come from you/then it will be new" - vibrates in my heart every day.

See a nice Tweet from Ben Brantley HERE and hear Melissa sing "Glocca Morra" below.

Thank you so much for talking with Broadway World today, and with me - you know the esteem in which I hold you, and I could authentically talk to you all day. But then neither of us would get anything done. Have a fun time on the 16th!

I always love writing with you, Stephen! Such fun.

For information and tickets to the October 16th performance of Melissa Errico SINGS HER NEW YORK Featuring Max von Essen visit the 54 Below website HERE.

Visit the Melissa Errico website HERE


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