Actress and Singer
Melissa Errico is one of the most versatile women to have come out of this Broadway’s young generation, proving herself both a great interpreter of classic musicals and modern music alike, as well as a gifted recording artist and film/television presence. She has starred in seven Broadway musicals and released two major solo cds: Blue Like That (EMI) and Lullabies and Wildflowers (VMG/Universal). She has been called everything from “divine” to “the voice of enchantment” to “one of the most valuable assets of the musical theater” by the NY TIMES as well as “incandescent” (Daily News) and “blessed with every attribute a grand dame of Broadway requires: star power, voice, looks, ability, personality, technique. An aphrodisiac, as it were, that galvanizes a musical into life.” (Clive Barnes). “Our most earthy and soulful ingenue… She both sparkles and is unmannered.” (USA Today) Her recordings have been praised as “intimate exhalations, sung with her heart-on-sleeve” (Billboard) and “a classy classic sound, with taste and imagination” (Washington Post) and “…ethereal, gorgeous, elegant, popular. Delivered with inward emotion and real artistry” (NY TIMES).
(Taken from Melissa Errico”s Official Website – you can find out much more about her by visiting her site).
Jessica: Melissa, it’s truly an honor to have you in TSM. Thank you so much for fitting this interview into your busy schedule.
Melissa: Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here. My three kids are watching a DVD of Eloise with Julie Andrews, so I should have some good time to focus!
Jessica: What inspired you to get into acting and singing? Are there other performers in your family?
Melissa: I grew up with many creative people around. My father is a classical pianist, and my mother is a very exciting, fun person; as well as a sculptor and painter. She loves theatre, costumes and all things a bit “heightened” like beautiful modern dance or opera. She was simply thrilled when I’d do a school play – she would lend me her clothes, nightgowns and jewelry. She just loved all the “hooplah” as well as the emotions of the stories. My father always loved the ballads and the touching, sad songs. I think he was always drawn to the one incredible love song or something reflective like “Simple” from Nine, or “Glad To Be Unhappy” from On Your Toes. So, in a way, I may have both of my parents all the time – a bit of a zany, neurotic comedian and a TOTAL romantic. Is this making sense?
Jessica: You act on stage, TV and film. However, with your long resume of theatrical shows, would you say that performing on stage is your first love? And is there one role in particular that stands out as a favorite for you? Finally, what was one of your most memorable moments on stage?
Melissa: Yes, theatre is my life. When I walk into a theatre, my body breathes differently. I feel reverence. I feel it is an important place. I am starting to feel that way about a piano. Anywhere there is a piano is a special place. I feel that making music is life-saving for me. The role that will always stand out for me is Eliza Doolittle. I was twenty two years old, and it was a great challenge and honor to play that role on Broadway. I loved her and I had a “take” on her which I think was my own. One of the most memorable moments of my life was re-visiting Eliza for a short weekend of performances in Los Angeles in 2003 at The Hollywood Bowl, and doing the Ascot scene with Higgins played by John Lithgow. I had never heard an audience laugh that hard. There were 20,000 people in stitches. Something extremely silly and inspired overtook John and me that night and we enjoyed doing My Fair Lady so much. I can also say that last summer (2010) I did a one night only concert of Brigadoon on Broadway which was absolutely magical. I actually think that whole company forgot about reality for two hrs. We were in a fairy dream. (The cast included: Jason Danieley, Christine Ebersole, Len Cariou). Oh dear, I have a third favorite!!!…. One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill!
Jessica: This past summer you starred opposite Jeremy Irons in Camelot, and with Alec Baldwin in Gift of the Gordon. Personally, I’m a huge admirer of both their work. What was it like working with them?
Melissa: They are both very different (mostly just because one is so very English), but they both work harder than anyone in the room, and work from a place of such personal freedom and truth. Jeremy and I have been friends since we did Camelot in LA together in 2006, which I did pregnant (it was very early on so I wasn’t showing). We had an incredible experience with it and were happy to be asked to reprise it. Jeremy is always the first to rehearsal, and works hard to highlight his lines and pays close attention to all his fellow actors and bonds with everyone. He takes a motorcycle to work and rides himself around Manhattan. He is a rock star. He always seems to have endless focus and time. He doesn’t like to be rushed, and rehearses carefully and thoughtfully. His King Arthur was so charming and profound, and Jeremy has a terrific musicality and a warm caressing voice. This past summer, Alec Baldwin and I co-starred in Gift of The Gorgon, the US premier of Peter Schaffer’s play, for a one-night only occasion at Guild Hall in East Hampton. It was a harrowing experience – the characters are insanely in love, but tear at each other, and have a rugged intellectual and ultimately very destructive life story. As it turns out, Alec and I dove into the performance, and it was almost wild. It took me a week to recover. Alec is a very passionate, brilliant man; and this role gave him a chance to be funny (of course), but also heartbreakingly angry and ruthless. I am always wishing to work with either of them again. I can’t say enough good words.
Jessica: Currently, I know you’re working on a Regina Spektor musical called Beauty. Tell us a little about it.
Melissa: It’s top secret, and I’m not allowed to share anything about it. I hope Regina wouldn’t mind my admitting that she is a goddess.
Jessica: With all your stage experiences, I imagine you must have had some embarrassing and/or funny moments on stage. Can you share one with us?
Melissa: In Anna Karenina on Broadway, I was singing a song while getting dressed (on stage) and I was supposed to dive into an enormous 19th-century hoop skirt. The waistline hook got badly stuck on my wig and I was stuck underneath the skirt for the entire song. I actually sang a good deal of the song under the skirt, and peeked out for a few lines and then finished underneath while making a very awkward comic exit. I was mortified.
Jessica: How do you prepare for a role?
Melissa: I read the script. I listen to the songs (if there are recordings). I let it seep in. I dream about it. I go to rehearsal, and look at the faces around me and try to work with everything I can see in front of me. I try not to have plans. I don’t believe you can work on your own. I believe its all about interaction.
Jessica: You’ve released three solo CD’s – Blue Like That, Lullabies and Wildflowers and your latest release is Legrand Affair. For Legrand Affair you collaborated with multi-Oscar winning film/jazz/pop composer Michel Legrand. Tell us a little about this CD.
Melissa: This CD is a collaboration with Michel Legrand produced by Phil Ramone. I met him when I was Isabelle in AMOUR on Broadway, and I was a FAN of Michel’s music my whole life. I’ve loved his music since I was little and my father played his songs. Meeting Michel was a dream come true. This CD showcases many of his Oscar-winning best, as well as hidden gems, and two French songs with sounds evocative of romantic cinema, jazz and just plain exquisiteness of melody. It is the result of years of work and dedication, and his orchestrations are some of the most breathtaking that have ever been heard. He arranged and conducted for a 100-piece symphony, inclusive of a world class jazz trio which included Steve Gadd on drums. What Michel Legrand did with that symphony, for me, for us, was surreal. I hope people will enjoy it.
The Legrand CD was begun in 2005, but not finished until now because I had one child, and then two more soon after (three babies!), and I couldn’t seem to finish the cd amidst all the emotions and changes. As I matured and felt my world change, the songs kept changing to me, and I wanted to be sure I brought all that emotion and awe into the recording. My voice and interpretations seemed to be changing…so, I took my time, to be sure I did my best by Michel’s beautiful music and the poetical lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Johnny Mercer, Norman Gimbel, Francoise Sagan and more.
Jessica: Do you have a favorite song you like performing live?
Melissa: Lately I’m in love with “What About Today?” by David Shire and “Meadowlark” by Stephen Schwartz. They were featured in my Joes Pub concert on Nov 19th, which also had lots of Legrand Affair highlights… It was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, which was such a thrill and an honor. With musical direction by John Oddo (who had been Rosemary Clooney’s md!). It’s sort of like the concert that never ends! People keep emailing about it since it was live streamed around the world and archived. Feel free to check it out at: www.livestream.com/joespub The whole concert is right there! All the songs you’ll hear are my current favorites – with Legrand and much more. I took a lot of chances. It was my first concert in three years, and I had a fantastic time.
Jessica: Who are some of your performing artist influences?
Melissa: My favorites that just spring to mind are gals like Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughn, Judy Garland, Juliette Binoche, Bernadette Peters, Emma Thompson, Roberta Flack and Barbra Streisand.
I also grew up loving Cyndi Lauper.
I was also very influenced by the musical A Chorus Line.
Jessica: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
Melissa: I run a non-profit called Bowery Babes, founded in 2005. And it has touched my heart in countless ways. If I had the brains and influence, I’d love to do more of the same: bring women together, empowering them during their pregnancies and their experience of motherhood, and having resources to support parenting as children age. I think it’s really important, for example, that parents learn effective ways to talk to kids, to support them and acknowledge them. I’d love to see more systems supporting families and strengthening attitudes. www.bowerybabes.com.
Jessica: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
Melissa: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Jessica: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Melissa: I think this was great, thanks. And…Oh gosh, where to find “more!?”…the computer I guess!! Though I’d much prefer we all meet in person. In the meantime: Twitter @melissa_errico And Facebook, and www.melissaerrico.com. And www.livestream.com/joespub, and YouTube has lots of nice stuff. There’s a YouTube called Melissa Talks About Legrand Affair – Part One. And there’s a part two and three. I have been invited back to Joe’s Pub after my sell-out show. Its called MELISSA ERRICO “BACK FOR MORE!” Broadway, Legrand and Other Things You Asked For! on April 17th at 7pm.
Jessica: Thanks again for doing this interview and wish you continued success with all you do in the future. All the best for 2012!
Melissa: I’m dreaming of a White Christmas! Happy Holidays and a beautiful new year to all.
(Thank goodness for dvds)
Husband, tennis star and ESPN sports commentator Patrick McEnroe
with daughters Victoria age 5, and twins Diana and Juliette, 3.