The impressive list of her leading men also includes Malcolm Gets and Tom Hewitt in, respectively, Michel Legrand's Amour and Frank Wildhorn's Dracula: The Musical. Errico's real-life leading man is her husband, tennis star Patrick McEnroe. They have a six-month-old daughter, but marriage and motherhood haven't put a halt to Errico's artistic endeavors. With Legrand, she has recorded an album of his songs that features a full symphony orchestra. Produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, the CD isn't due for release until the spring; but those who attend Errico's upcoming concerts at Birdland (December 11 and 12 at 7pm) will get a foretaste of it, plus a generous helping of musical theater songs. In a recent phone conversation, I spoke with the far-from-reticent star about this gig, her future plans, and the various men in her life.
THEATERMANIA: Hi, Melissa. Is this a good time for you to talk?
MELISSA ERRICO: Yes, but I have to stop being totally obsessed with my baby so I can actually sound like a professional for 10 minutes. Let me step into another room. [Pause] Alright. So, how are you? Have you been seeing a lot of shows lately?
TM: Yes, I saw Les Miz last night.
MELISSA: Oh, God. I was in it, and I remember getting out at 11:15 every night. I was 18, and I had been out of high school for about five minutes. That was my first professional job; I played Cosette, but I think I was closer in age to Gavroche than to Marius. I used to hang out with Gavroche and his mom, then I'd go on stage and do a love scene with a guy in his 30s. There were a lot of naughty boys in the chorus who were trying to corrupt me. They shall remain nameless, but they know who they are.
TM: And now you're a married lady with a baby. What's your daughter's name?
MELISSA: Victoria Penny McEnroe -- "Penny" because, ever since our first date, my husband has had this quirk where he picks up pennies in the street and gives them to me. He'll read the date in this very thoughtful-sounding voice and look at me like he's about to say something really important. Then, nothing. I keep waiting for some deep, profound statement, but no. All he does is read the date.
TM: Tell me about the program for your Birdland show.
MELISSA: Well, with the exception of four songs from the Michel Legrand album, it's all theater music. When singing actors do cabaret or concerts, it can be difficult because you're not singing on behalf of a character. I was fortunate to make my cabaret debut with a run at the Café Carlyle. Lee Roy Reems was my director for that show; his first advice was, "Tell us a little bit about yourself and make eye contact with the audience. Don't create any sense of a fourth wall." Since then, I've worked with people in the music world who know nothing about theater and, to tell you the truth, some of them have a real chip on the shoulder about it. They think the singers always sing too loud, that they try too hard sell themselves...
TM: In other words, these music people have a Simon Cowell sort of attitude.
MELISSA: Yes! I'm not trying to be 21 and be on TV and please Simon. He has a different plan for those American Idol kids because he's trying to turn them into pop stars, but I hate some of the things he says to them. Doesn't he say things like, "You should be in a play?" I hate that chip on the shoulder.
TM: What else can you say about the Birdland gig?
MELISSA: I want the arrangements to have a contemporary feeling and to be played by world-class musicians who don't have a 1955 kind of aesthetic about musical theater songs. Birdland is a jazz club, so these guys will be right in their element. I'm learning a lot from them. In the past, I think I may have been a little afraid that I could sing theater music in a new way without losing something. I mean, you do lose something, but you gain something else.
TM: It sounds like you have an amazing group of guys lined up for the gig.
MELISSA: My clarinet player, Derek Bermel, had a big feature about him in The New York Times recently. I knew him in college and, this summer, I saw him at a wedding. He took his clarinet out of the car, we created this warm and moody arrangement of "My Romance" right there in the parking lot, and then we went inside and did it at the wedding. Since then, that marriage has been annulled -- it's a long, crazy story! -- but Derek and I are determined to keep working together. We'll be doing "My Romance" at Birdland.
TM: Who else will be playing for you?
MELISSA: I'm using Chris Botti's piano player, Andy Ezrin. Do you know who Chris Botti is? He's a trumpet player, a crossover star, and he's beautiful. If there are any gay guys out there who need someone to become obsessed with, he's your man -- although I really shouldn't offer him, because he's straight.
TM: Well, if he's straight, why aren't you offering him to women?
MELISSA: Oh. I don't know! That was ungenerous of me. I guess I want him for myself. Anyway, I'll be singing from One Touch of Venus and My Fair Lady. I'm going to do one or two Sondheim songs. And I've had John Oddo, who was Rosemary Clooney's arranger, write a jazz-waltz tribute to one of the great musical theater ingénues for me -- but I won't tell you who it is.
TM: I imagine that, with the baby and all, it might be a while before we see you on Broadway again.
MELISSA: I would do anything to be back on Broadway; I have so much admiration for it. I'll wait my turn and, hopefully, I'll be blessed with another opportunity.
TM: I saw Finian's Rainbow at the Irish Rep and at Westport. That was delightful, but your last Broadway show was Dracula...
MELISSA: Uh-oh. [Sighs] You know, I loved the petticoats and the 19th-century kind of repressed sexuality -- all that yearning. So I thought, "Sign me up!" Dracula was thrilling to me in the beginning. I can tell you that the workshop, like so many workshops, was passionate. As it turned out, I think maybe the show wasn't enough of a Frank Wildhorn musical; it should have been more extreme, more rock and roll. [Director] Des McAnuff tried to make the story more psychological and insidious. He wanted it to have all this tension, but maybe that didn't read. You know, doing musical theater is like trying to catch a butterfly. But we worked very hard on that show and I made lots of great friends along the way, so don't regret anything about it.
TM: I know that you're also close with Raúl Esparza and Malcolm Gets.
MELISSA: They're my show husbands. They both know it, and they're jealous of each other. My real husband is okay with that. Raúl will come over when I have an audition, and I'll change clothes in front of him. Malcolm and I are in another world together; we'll sing and play the piano. I could eat Raúl for dinner, but I wouldn't eat Malcolm for dinner. I would stroke his hair and make nice. Meeting people like them is one of the reasons why being in the theater is so worth it.