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Melissa Errico: The Reluctant Soprano

Joe's Pub offers us one more touch of Melissa. logo

Putting her last, less-than-happy Broadway experience in High Society firmly behind her, Melissa Errico finds her career once again on the upswing. Could it be because she's now happily married to tennis royalty in the person of Patrick MacEnroe (brother of John)? Or because she's currently co-starring as Jim Caviezel's girlfriend in the blockbuster film Frequency? Or perhaps--just perhaps--because she is making her cabaret debut at Joe's Pub? While Errico laughs at the first conjecture, she freely admits to the others.

"They say you're newlyweds for the first year, and we're still trying to finish decorating our new apartment so we can get rid of the echo in here," Errico says; she adds that, since she's known her husband since the age of five (they were childhood neighbors on Long Island as well as schoolmates), "it seems as if he's been with me all along." Long-term relationships are common for Errico: She first met Jason Robert Brown, who won last year's Tony for his score to the musical Parade and is the musical director for her cabaret debut, at a teen theater camp when she was 11. "A few years later, at camp, I played Evita and he was Che. We were kids--we didn't know what we were doing!"

Some have also wondered how Errico's career has been doing since the ill-fated High Society. "It's like I've been under a rock since then," she says. "Six days before opening, Des McAnuff replaced the original director of High Society and made a lot of last minute changes. The show received very poor notices and we all got the blame. That was such a tough experience--I was very exposed during the whole thing, and I was devastated. Then people like Joel Grey and Patti LuPone told me, 'Get to the back of the line Melissa, we've all been there!' That's the way it is: Some [shows] work, some that should be great just don't come together at the right time. It was a hard lesson for me especially, because I've always been such a perfectionist. But I think I've had it with that," she says ruefully. "It just walks you into walls."

Errico credits her current positive attitude and renewed confidence level to a recent spate of non-musical roles. "Frequency is my first time in the opening credits [of a film}," she says. "When you're up there, you know you're in the movie--it's not like playing Woman #2." Errico also gets top billing as a wedding photographer in Lisa Albright's indie film Picture This and plays Brian Dennehy's daughter-in-law in a television pilot for a new series based on Ed Burns' The Brothers McMullan.

Ironically, her Joe's Pub engagement came about because someone from Angel Records saw her and liked her in High Society. "They came to me two years ago about doing an album," she relates. "Somehow I've managed to drag them along until my musical confidence came back. And I'm hoping they'll love this material as much as I do."

Titled The Real Emotional Girl: Melissa Errico Sings Randy Newman, Errico's act features the music and lyrics of that quirky pop songwriter--hardly the type of repertoire usually associated with someone who won accolades (and a Lucille Lortel Award) for her performance in the City Center's Encores! presentation of One Touch of Venus, which in itself was a follow-up to her Broadway debut in the Richard Chamberlain revival of My Fair Lady several seasons ago. "Right after My Fair Lady," Errico recalls, "I played Margaret [Marguerite], the redeeming female force, in the James Lapine workshop production of Randy's rock opera Faust at the American Place Theatre. In Randy's version, Ken Page played God and Chip Zien played the devil, who offers a University student, played by Curt Deutsch, straight As and future success in return for his soul. Well, the guy's a real jerk, so he accepts, then he meets Margaret and ultimately all hell breaks loose. He actually goes to Hell, where he encounters Sherie René Scott. It's the first time I'd ever played an ingénue who really suffers--I mean, ultimately, she gets electrocuted! Of course, now we're all part of the Randy Newman mafia: Sherie and Curt met during the workshop and got married, with Randy singing as they came down the aisle. We all love him."

Opening with two of Newman's "geography" songs--"Dayton, Ohio" and "Louisiana"--Errico's show at Joe's Pub features a trio of numbers from Faust: including "Feels Like Home" (also a Bonnie Raitt single), "Gainesville" (also a Linda Ronstadt single), and the hauntingly beautiful lullaby "Sandman" (which may well turn out to be Errico's break out single, when and if Angel decides to record the act.) Errico also offers such uptempo material as "Let Me Go," which was recorded by Barbra Streisand but never released.

"Jason doesn't want an evening of dark, moody material," Errico says. "We've both come to a point in our own lives where we've had both success and disappointments, and that old cycle is finished. It's like we're both starting again, and this show is about reaffirming things for us. Neither of us wants to do a 'heavy' show, and Jason really likes the folk and pop/rock songs. We're also doing some of Randy's movie stuff, like 'Let Me See You Smile' from Parenthood and this year's Oscar nominee, 'When Somebody Loved Me' from Toy Story 2."

Errico reveals that her brother Mike will join her on the guitar for the latter song on opening night. "He's a real rocker, playing on the road with Peter Weir from the Grateful Dead, and he'll just be slumming with me," she says. "You know, I didn't start out to sing in musical comedy. In our house, my parents listened to Led Zeppelin and learned the Hustle so they could go to Studio 54. At 19, I was a gymnast and a dancer auditioning for the Bernadette Peters role in George M for Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island while [casting director] Vinnie Liff was holding auditions next door for Les Miz. He saw me through the window and asked me to come in. So I auditioned for Les Miz in tap shoes, and then I never danced again."

This summer, Errico dances off to London with Brent Barrett to record One Touch of Venus with the National Symphony for a comprehensive double-CD of the show, complete with the music for the Agnes DeMille-choreographed dances. Even so, Errico insists, "I don't want to be the musical revival queen, and Jason's helping me out of that box with this show. I'm not Eliza Doolittle anymore and I don't want to have to sing that high. No offense, but let Rebecca Luker do it. We share the same teacher, but I just don't enjoy singing up there."

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