Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Palm Springs / Coachella Valley

Ten Questions with Melissa Errico:
The Tony nominee contemplates more Sondheim
and maybe Broadway with a Latin beat

Interview by Robert Sokol

Melissa Errico
Photo by Jeff Auger
A veteran of six Broadway musicals, two fistfuls of solo albums, and over a dozen cast recordings and showtune studio compilations, Melissa Errico has been zipping into some tony cabaret halls and boîtes lately. Between gigs at 54 Below in Manhattan and Crazy Coqs in London, the star of My Fair Lady and High Society returns to Coachella Valley Repertory near Palm Springs for a revelatory evening of story and song. She will be followed in the Summer Cabaret Series by Alysha Umphress, Jason Graae, Ken Page, and many others.

Born within a stone's throw of The Great White Way (or about twenty blocks off, she says, and delivered by her father), the singer-actor also has television credits ranging from "Blue Bloods" and "Billions" to two seasons of "Central Park West." A longtime collaborator with Michel Legrand (Amour, Legrand Affair), Errico has also mined the canon of Stephen Sondheim (Sunday in the Park with George at the Kennedy Center, Passion Off-Broadway, and two-and-counting solo recordings). This week she returns to the Desert with a concert she premiered last year in London and Paris.

1: You're calling this show The Life & Loves of a Broadway Baby. What do you consider the essence of a Broadway baby to be, and how do you see yourself as a Broadway baby?

ME: Well, I'm a Broadway baby by virtue of having started my career, several decades ago now, by taking a train from the suburbs of New York into the city and actually pounding the street looking for auditions. I think people on the train were a bit alarmed when they saw me coming home nights... fortunately I was a straight A student, so my parents indulged my obsession. And then, I come from a long line of Broadway babies... my great aunt Rose was an honest-to-God Ziegfeld girl, discovered by Mr. Z. himself in a restaurant in the subway! It got written up in The New York Times–a very different paper then apparently. But in Sondheim's song, "Broadway Baby," being one is also a kind of metaphor for everyone's aspiration and perseverance in pursuing a dream–so in one sense I want everyone leaving the show to feel like they belong to the Broadway baby family.

2: Good cabaret tells a story. What story are you telling in this concert?

ME: I love to make my concerts into stories... in fact, I sometimes feel like I'm participating in the invention of a new form, what I sometimes call jokingly the "caber-essay." This one has a rich, kaleidoscopic kind of story to tell–about the mix of family and professional experiences that add up to my strange and singular but fulfilling life. It's some of Sondheim in the City, my new album, along with favorite standards from Arlen to Les Miz. The story is about how passionately I've embraced music and the stage, despite whatever discouragements may come along the way. "Was I disappointed?" From time to time. "Was I disenchanted?" Never. Sondheim and I have both said that. So, I hope it's funny, and maybe even a little bit inspiring.

3: Was a life in showbiz a foregone destiny for you? What was your "gateway" to performing?

ME: When I was twelve, for my birthday my parents took me to a performance of the Rodgers & Hart musical, On Your Toes. It changed my life. It was my religious experience. My epiphany. "Who are these people? And how did they get up there?" I cried to my mother. I've been finding out ever since.

4: You've recently spent a lot of time recording and performing the music of Stephen Sondheim. What have you learned from that experience?

ME: Sondheim is the great genius of American musical theater, in my doubtless prejudiced view. I sang in several of his shows, and we were email mates, so diving deep into his work isn't just a form of interpretation but of self-education. I did my first Sondheim album just after I had a bit of a health scare–all fine now!–and wondered what legacy I would leave my children. The answer, or part of it, lay in singing Sondheim's enchanting wisdoms. I wanted to emphasize the "sublime" aspect of his work. Not the satirist, but the spell-caster. Then, with the pandemic ending, I wanted to do this new album, Sondheim in the City, which is all about the city's pleasures and perils. It's literally about the city waking up, from the very first song, "Dawn," a little known but beautiful number about first light in Manhattan! You, see? Sondheim is a songwriter for all seasons.

5: How has your experience with the Sondheim canon differed from your long association with Michel Legrand?

ME: Legrand was my other great musical mentor. Yes, and I suppose in a way the two exemplify the two sides of my sensibility. Steve is all wisdom, surprise, and ambivalence, with deliberate echoes of music past in his music now. Michel is pure romance, an unspooling thread of lyrical enchantment. One is so New York, the other so French. I speak with Sondheim and swoon with Legrand. I'm by nature a romantic, but still have a skeptical view of romance. Those two geniuses–who I don't think entirely liked each other!–complete me.

6: In addition to Sondheim and Legrand, you explored and recorded a noir-themed album of standards. Are there other musical motifs or genres that pique your curiosity?

ME: I loved doing my noir record, Out of The Dark, and I may even add a few songs to the project in the future. But I love the idea of doing straight standards records–you know, Porter, Kern, and Harburg and Arlen–and the idea of doing a Kurt Weil concert. Venus in One Touch of Venus is still my favorite role. Oh, and for a surprise, I dream every night in Brazilian. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean. I would love to do a kind of Broadway bossa nova record.

7: Do you have a preference for working solo (with an accompanist, of course) versus being part of a larger ensemble?

ME: I love both! I love the sense of community that developing a stage show provides–that's how those people got up there!–and I love taking responsibility for a one-woman show where I'm the cast and have to tell the story on my own. If I have a dream in life, it's to pass seamlessly every year from one to the other.

8: What sorts of projects, that you can talk about, do you have in development for stage, screen, or recording studio?

ME: Well, Adam Gopnik and David Shire have promised to write a show for me inspired by the life of the musical medieval queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine! That should be something. Then, as I [wrote] above, I'm percolating new albums in my soul. I intend Sondheim in the City, my new album, to be the middle exhibit in a three-album tribute to Steve. I already know what songs the last album will take for its subject but won't reveal it quite yet! (Hint: I will finally do "I'm Still Here.")

9: You are becoming known for your writing in The New York Times and on other platforms. How does writing fulfill you and how is that fulfillment different from what you feel while performing?

ME: I've loved to write my whole life. Have kept diaries, written blogs, had epistolary relations with mentors and friends. Having the chance to organize my experience in language has been one of the great things in my life. As my heroine Nora Ephron explained once, when you write it then you own it, and all of the absurdities and even the indignities of life can come back to the reader as comedy, under your direction. I love to take the mishaps of life and organize them into stories. So, the performative energy on stage can become reflective energy in writing about it.

10: This is a return to the Coachella Valley for you. Is there anything about the area that particularly appeals to you? Could you see yourself living here, even part time?

ME: Oh, I love California–"It's cold and it's damp!" as my anthemic lady sings in "The Lady Is a Tramp." Seriously, I do love it, and who knows what might happen once my teenagers are all off to college. (The oldest, hard to believe, starts Duke [University] in the fall.)

Bonus Question: What is important to you right now that you want share?

ME: I think we're all struggling to keep alive a beautiful, pluralistic view of our lives right now. Trying to break down suspicion and mistrust into common feelings. So, though I'm not a political artist, I hope my shows can have a positive effect, however small. That they bring generations together through the beautiful and unique tradition of American song.

Melissa Errico: The Life & Loves of a Broadway Baby Alive runs June 5 and 6, 2024, as part of the annual Summer Cabaret Series at Coachella Valley Repertory, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City CA. Tickets are $50. For tickets and information, please visit or call 760-296-2966, Extension 0.