She is one of Broadway’s brightest, busiest stars, and now Melissa Errico is bringing her concert, “Sondheim Sublime,” based off of her critically acclaimed album of the same name, to Guild Hall on June 30.
Although Errico is a Renaissance woman — she performs non-musical roles along with her award-winning musical ones, has had a career that spans the big and little screens, has written essays for publications like The New York Times and others, founded the nonprofit Bowery Babes which supports new mothers through pregnancy and beyond, and (are you tired yet?) is curating a series this summer at the French Institute Alliance Francaise honoring the late, great French composer Michel Legrand — she still found time to talk a bit about her love of everything Stephen Sondheim and everything East End.
So, what is it about Sondheim’s music that evokes such a visceral response from performers and audience members? “There is something mysterious and universal about his ravishing music,” Errico replied, “and it is that mysterious quality which inspired me to create the album ‘Sondheim Sublime.’”
The album, with a couple of exceptions, is infused with what the normal public might call deep cuts. There’s no “Comedy Tonight” or “I Feel Pretty,” not even a “Being Alive” to be found. Errico feels that “Sondheim is more than the acerbic, witty, fast-mouthed, some say ‘cold,’ genius that might first come to mind, and really he is the poet laureate of things sublime.”
As critic Mark Shenton wrote of her sold-out London debut last year: “It’s not just the ravishing, shimmering vocal tones Melissa Errico brings to Sondheim; it’s also the emotional and intellectual connections she makes to his ambivalence and contradictory feelings. It’s a master class in appreciating and understanding his work.”
Errico starred in the Broadway musicals “Anna Karenina,” “My Fair Lady,” “High Society,” “Dracula,” “White Christmas,” and “Amour,” which garnered her a Tony nomination for Best Actress, and began her longtime association with Legrand. Errico was recently honored with a caricature at Sardi’s in celebration of her Broadway performances, her concerts, and her essays on the actor’s art.
But back to Sondheim. “Being an actor is a strange life without much that holds us together and consistently inspires,” Errico continued. “But those of us who are musical theater actors cannot imagine our lives, cannot imagine the experience of being an actor at all, without the influence of Stephen Sondheim. I’m blessed this year to have completed the passion project of my life — made more passionate by my having once appeared in his great musical play ‘Passion’ — and that’s a recording of Sondheim’s sublime songs. By sublime I mean what the poet William Wordsworth meant by it: Sublime./That blessed mood/In Which the burden of the mystery,/In which the heavy and weary weight/Of all this unintelligible world/Is lightened.”
Is there one song that still “gets” her every time, no matter how often she performs it? “Perhaps the song that always gets me is ‘Send In The Clowns.’ It’s seemingly simple but it’s not. It’s full of hairpin turns. It is from a musical where an actress chose success and found it to not be successful,” she said.
And that’s where her love of the songwriter lies. “Everything with Sondheim has two sides; everything is a living, breathing contradiction. Sondheim is fully alive with puzzles and self-consciousness and doubleness. Every word counts; you have to think your way through every line. A singer can’t just ladle it out like syrup.”
Errico also loves the subliminal message doled out repeatedly by Sondheim: “There are moments when we all feel we are struggling up stream. Sondheim says, ‘Move on.’ Which way do we go? What do we follow? Our passions or our responsibilities? For me, Sondheim’s answer is, It’s always both at once. You’ll always be in two places at once.”
And therein lies the joy, she says. “My Sondheim concert is a little bit like a funny philosophy class set to gorgeous melodies with the most exquisite lyrics imaginable. We laugh a lot, because Sondheim asks all the most deeply personal questions and leaves you with only more problems and questions, but maybe it’s the best way to end up — aware that life is all about living in contradiction.”
And Errico is a Long Island native. “I grew up in Manhasset, which is an old Indian name for exit 36,” she said. “I have also come out east most summers since 1996, when I fell in love with my husband in Sag Harbor, while working at Bay Street.” Errico is married to ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe and the couple have three children. “That summer was magical. We went running (he was still a pro tennis player) and ate fresh corn, and slept well. We were both athletes of a kind, so we were never wild like other 20-somethings. Our idea of being wild was getting up early and making egg white omelets,” she said with a laugh. “Now, with three kids, our idea of excitement is a good night’s sleep.”
And of Guild Hall? “It’s always a joy to sing at Guild Hall. I must have been 22 when I first sang there. I’m honored anytime I can sing for people and give them a joyful and musical summer night. I always have so much fun singing there, and have grown up singing there sometimes every summer.” Errico shared a treasured backstage Guild Hall memory: “I once shared a dressing room for two nights with Kitty Carlisle, and another time, Lauren Bacall sat with me and said ‘Honey, you are a star . . . what you need is a scandal.’”
The June 30 show begins at 7 PM and tickets can be purchased online at www.guildhall.org.