In her 20s (actually 18), 30s, and 40s, Melissa Errico wasn’t just an ingénue, she was the go-to ingénue for musical theater from Broadway to the coast, in revivals, readings and concerts. The artist describes her perpetual role as “…a young, innocent lady who might end up with a nice looking tenor…she certainly isn’t a mother yet…” Melissa has three daughters. Between concert and cabaret performances, she’s writing more and looking back. This entertaining show features ingénue anthems from pieces in which she’s appeared and jazz influenced turns for which she has a penchant. Personal stories from an upcoming memoir are interspersed.
Tedd Firth, Melissa Errico
On her 12th birthday, Melissa saw Christine Andreas in the revival of On Your Toes. “There’s a Small Hotel” (Rodgers and Hart) is lilting, beautifully phrased. Back end trill extends like a ribbon down her back. “I began to weep desperately,” she tells us. “Where did these people come from and how did they get here?”
Mrs. Errico, her daughter’s “reliable ally,” saw that she went to theater camp. “Jason Robert Brown (now a composer/lyricist) and I were like Mickey (Rooney) and Judy (Garland) putting on shows. My mother always had a funny comment or a good idea.” Peter Mills/Adam Gopnik’s “My Mother Sang Through Me” appears to be special material, a story/song written for her. Melody wanders, Melissa reflects.
The role of Eliza in My Fair Lady followed that of Cosette in Les Miserables. Relationships in the latter company ran a caucus race “The leading man was in love with the director who was in love with me.” Anecdotes are observant and wry. “Without You” arrives at a clip. Melissa flips back her generous curls. “Shy” was replaced in the musical by “I Could’ve Danced All Night.” Shall all the love in the world/Go wandering silently by/Leaving us here year after year too shy…It’s pretty, but I vote for “Danced” (Lerner and Loewe).
Tedd Firth, Melissa Errico
“I’m a Stanger Here Myself” is from Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash’s One Touch of Venus in which she played the goddess. “…a paradoxical ingénue,” Melissa notes. “She invents sex, but she doesn’t understand why everyone just doesn’t jump into bed. The director said to play the show as if I had a hat over one eye. So I did.” Hopping up to the piano top, Melissa sings “That’s Him,” luxuriating in every phrase. Her left arm floats up. You know the way you feel about the Rhapsody in Blue, she sings sensually leaning back.
Stephen Sondheim felt the entire tenor of a musical was set by its first five minutes, she tells us. Opening scene in a revival of High Society (Cole Porter) featured Tracy Lord (Melissa) on a pedestal as seamstresses finessed her wedding gown. “I Am Loved” she exuberantly sings. When the production came to New York, however, she found herself belting “Riding High” instead. “The audience didn’t know what to feel about me. Was I disappointed? Yes. Was I disillusioned, not a bit.” (Melissa Errico’s mantra.)
“The night before her wedding, Tracy jumps in the pool with a journalist. We’ve all been there,” she quips. “It’s All Right with Me” is accompanied by side-steps and shoulder shifts. Melissa can belt with the best of them without getting brassy. Her natural level is robust. There’s little this evening of a quiet nature. It’s missed all the more with awareness of the artist’s splendid control.
A section on “Ingenudity” highlights sitting in a bubble bath for Sunday in the Park with George and opening her blouse in Dracula so that “my nipples would provide misdirection.” The ill-fated Amour created a warm professional relationship with Michel Legrand. “Other People’s Stories” floats celebrity names atop a frothy waltz. “I actually took the poster over to Joe Allen’s myself.” (The restaurant has walls of shame for short-lived shows.)
Melissa Errico, JC Maillard
“I didn’t know in Camelot that I was pregnant,” Melissa comments. “This song marks Guinevere’s real education.” “I Loved You Once in Silence” is slow and savored, no elaboration or fuss. She steps inside the lyric. Piano is lush (Lerner and Loewe). One gets the feeling that all the actress’s ingénues were more plucky than those who followed in her footsteps. As Daisy in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, “I worked to give her agency. She might be sweet, but she’s not simple” confirms the impression. “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” arrives dense and jazzy, robbing it of magic.
Guests JC Maillard and Thierry Arpino join the inimitable Tedd Firth for the remainder of this (overlong) show. If you cut off this bit, it would float on its own. Maillard has sensitive, nimble fingers, Arpino integrates seamlessly. We hear less well known songs by Joni Mitchell, Dori Previn and another Lerner and Lowe before two encores. Stephen Sondheim’s “Move On”, with just the right start/stop phrasing and expansive vocal is both powerful and apt.
This is an accomplished actress/vocalist who uses both sides of her brain. I suspect the memoir will be smart and witty.
Photos by David Kenas
Melissa Errico – Terminal Ingenue
MD/Piano – Tedd Firth
Guests: JC Mallard – Guitar, Thiery Arpino- Percussion
The Green Room 42
570 10th Avenue
April 2, 2023