Interview: Melissa Errico Joyously Radiating Her EVERGREEN HOLIDAY At Feinstein's @ Vitello's

Tony-award nominee Melissa Errico brings her holiday show Evergreen Holiday to Feinstein’s at Vitello’s December 21st & 22nd

By: Dec. 09, 2022
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Interview: Melissa Errico Joyously Radiating Her EVERGREEN HOLIDAY At Feinstein's @ Vitello's

Fresh from her Carnegie Hall debut last month, Tony-award nominee Melissa Errico brings her holiday show Evergreen Holiday to Feinstein's at Vitello's December 21st and 22nd. Accompanied by a jazz trio led by Randy Waldman, Melissa's special guest Jon Lovitz will join in on the storytelling that has made Melissa a favorite New York Times contributor.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Melissa! How hard was it to pare down your choices from a plethora of holiday songs for Evergreen Holiday? What was your delineating criteria?

I LOVE holiday music, from sweet traditional yule-tide comfort songs to big Broadway classics and even crazy comedy songs, like Tom Lehrer's "Hanukkah In Santa Monica." One of the wistful highlights of the pandemic for me was a holiday show I did for the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, just me in a beautiful green gown and Tedd Firth in a mask, on a live stream, and I've kept close the list of songs that worked for me on that occasion. I want every song to be a song, not just a seasonal sound - something that has the kind of dramatic life I love. And I love to laugh! I'll sing a few parodies of Christmas classics authored by my lyricist Adam Gopnik that are wild and I'll even have a special comedy guest: the great Jon Lovitz! And is it terrible to say that I'd like it to be a sexy show, too? Well, I would: I bought a huge 'kissing ball' for our entryway - I have three teenage daughters; it's not clear if there's actually mistletoe in it but I bought it when I got the tree... I couldn't resist the concept, and the mayhem it invites. I love the idea of making a little Christmas romance.

What was the first Christmas carol you learned as a child?

There's a video, which I've posted unashamedly, of me singing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", at the age of five, with a muff on my hands and a sparkle in my eyes. My parents used to literally knock-on strangers' doors and offer them a Christmas show: my brother Mike on trumpet, my Dad on piano, and me singing. Watching it now, I'm not sure how well I carry the tune, but I KNOW I carry the moment. A show girl from the get-go.

Will you be singing this in Evergreen Holiday?

I wasn't planning to - but maybe I should. Naughty and nice is a saucy theme. It's, well, evergreen.

What cosmic forces brought you and Randy Waldman together for this Feinstein's at Vitello's gig?

It's always been a dream of mine to play with Randy - he's a legend for his work with Sinatra and above all for accompanying Streisand for so many years. We started working together just a year ago and I was thrilled by his orchestral approach - he makes a whole band with his mind and hands. And of course, he's deep in musical knowledge. I think he thinks I intellectualize too much - I love to talk through a song, its hidden challenges and secret meanings, and he likes to ask "faster" or "slower"? Meaning we'll find those meanings in the work as we do it. We're happy opposites that way, and I love our meetings. He's a pilot too. There is something absolutely logical about imagining him in mid-air, among the clouds.

Growing up what did you think you would be: Actor? Writer? Singer?

All three - at the age of twelve I saw "On Your Toes" for the first time, and I broke down and said to my mother 'Where do these people come from? How do they get up there?" So, I knew I wanted to be a singing actor at that moment, and never put that goal aside. But writing and reading - they're the same thing at different moments - mattered to me hugely, too. I used to write long stories by candlelight, and I've kept years' worth of journals and diaries. One of my early mentors insisted that I keep all my writing intact. All three métiers are alike in a way: ways of transmitting emotion from your own experience directly to an audience. You can say it, or sing it, or write it - it's all one enterprise.

Interview: Melissa Errico Joyously Radiating Her EVERGREEN HOLIDAY At Feinstein's @ Vitello's You regularly contribute essays to The New York Times. When did you decide to pursue writing?

I've loved writing and reading throughout my life, thought actually of becoming an art history professor for a while, and always in the back of my mind was the nagging thought that someday I had to write seriously. Then Scott Heller of the Times approached me about doing a piece - he had heard some candid interview I'd done, and he'd thought it showed a writers' mind at work - and I jumped at the chance. The first one was about still playing ingenue roles in my forties, and it gave me an ironic title: "Terminal Ingenue." People seemed to enjoy it, and Scott urged me to write more. Since then, I've written about the perils of auditioning, life on a Broadway cruise, green-screen musicals in the pandemic and, most recently, about going back on the road from one end of the country to the other, and, among other things, having to find complaisant strangers in the corridors to zip up my gowns. The Times has been enthusiastic enough to give the entire series a rubric - "Scenes From An Acting Life" - and I'd love to continue them, and even more important, use them as the springboard for a real book, a new kind of backstage memoir, which I promise myself - and you - I really will get done this year.

Having the chance to write about my life makes even the awkward and ridiculous experiences that are inevitable to a traveling minstrel's life meaningful. As my heroine Nora Ephron said, if I write it, then I control it.

Do you prefer to perform as Melissa Errico in a concert or in a musical as a scripted character?

It's always both at once. Any song I do as myself is also sung "in character." The sexy sultry girl in "Sooner Or Later" or the wistful, uh, sex worker in "Hard Candy Christmas" are very different from the loving earthmother in "Not While I'm Around" or the life-haunted actress in "Send In The Clowns"... they're all parts I play. And then of course, in another way, all those parts are part of me. There are many women inside the one called Melissa Errico, and I get to sing them all. (Well, ok, not the sex worker, but you see my point - and certainly she's a brave, seasoned woman, handling a hard-candy Christmas.)

Two of your numerous albums are tributes to beknown songwriters Stephen Sondheim and Michel Legrand. What is it about each of their music that you love to sing and interpret?

They're almost opposites, aren't they? Sondheim is sharp speech and sublime music, at times pure intellect, and Legrand is swooning music and romantic speech, at times pure soul. I love them both and, speaking of many Melissas, maybe they define the two poles of my nature - which, come to think of it, may be why I love to write my life as well as sing it. Tell the truth, I don't think either man loved the other one's art! Legrand was too swooning and French for Steve, I think, and I suspect that Michel would have been left cold by Sondheim's ironic contradictions. But they meet in me.

How was it to reprise your role of 1993 Broadway role of Eliza Dolittle (opposite Richard Chamberlain) ten years later at the Hollywood Bowl (opposite John Lithgow and Roger Daltrey)? Like riding a bicycle?

It was very liberating. I was 22 when I did the role on Broadway and it was good to reprise it with a little more life experience and determination. I was given almost too much brilliant information when I was 22, and I had never stopped thinking about the role, the play, the musical. Plus, I was taught so much about actual phonetics! When I was 22, the Broadway producers sent me to London to meet the 'Henry Higgins of England,' a woman named Joan Washington who drilled me mercilessly and made me a cockney. Well, pretty close! But she also taught me why they spoke as they did, the many reasons for their rhyming slang, for example, which was entangled in basic survival. Cockneys spoke in riddles. They were colorful, elusive, hard to pin down, not transparent. Survivors. I also learned from our brilliant director, Howard Davies, that George Bernard Shaw was a deep person - and Howard himself pulsed with an intensity about big issues like feminism and social engineering, while also being a deeply emotional man who felt like Higgins and Eliza were magnets. Primally attracted to each other's differences and bound by a parallel life force. There was so much passion in Howard's interpretation. It wasn't as simple as "either Eliza Interview: Melissa Errico Joyously Radiating Her EVERGREEN HOLIDAY At Feinstein's @ Vitello's comes back at the end or doesn't." It's nuanced. So, I was thrilled to revisit "My Fair Lady" in Los Angeles in such a loving, friendly, open-hearted company of actors and leadership. I was able to take on Eliza in all her complexity, and also trust that all the past knowledge was somewhere inside me. I was so relaxed during those performances, and I remember the comedy playing so well. I even remember John Lithgow rushing over to me backstage after Ascot, saying, "This is funny!" and Carol Burnett coming up to me after the show, saying, "You're funny!" I guess the comedy was really "on." I have to say, I could write a whole book on the pleasures of the experience. Roger Daltrey as my father, Alfred Doolittle, was one of the highlights of my life. I told him people will all want to know what it is like working with him, and he told me to tell you, "Tell them, I'm a really great shag."

What's in the near future for Melissa Errico?

My passion over the past year has been my album of film noir inspired music, "Out Of The Dark," and I'll have a chance to live it again, dramatically, on stage at the theater in Birdland in New York for a full Valentine's Day week in 2023. We'll try to dramatize the imaginary life of a girl singer at Birdland in 1948 who's in love with a gangster and a poet at the same time -- her loves and losses and pains and hopes. I'll sing Arlen and Raksin and, yes, Legrand. "Shadows are all we have/to show the shapes that light can make," a new David Shire song, sums up our themes. For me noir isn't a sentimental look backwards, but a present state of mind. The whole pandemic... it's left us all a bit noir.

There are concerts in Paris and London coming up, too -- and then I will, and must, spend 2023 writing my memoir.

Thank you again, Melissa! I look forward to hearing your vocal stylings at Feinstein's at Vitello's.

The best is yet to come. For all of us. That's my holiday wish.

For tickets to the live performances December 21 and 22 at Feinstein's at Vitello's, click the button below: