Beauty is as beauty sings, and back in 1996 it was that unbeatable and combustible combo that made Melissa Errico the ideal Goddess of Love, a statue of Venus of Anatolia brought abruptly to life when a nebbish barber slips a wedding ring on her finger. The show was Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s One Touch of Venus, and it earned her a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Actress in a Musical that year—still the only Lortel won by Encores!
Two decades and 63 Encores! later, Errico returned to the City Center series for Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim’s Do I Hear a Waltz? (May 15–19), a sweep in three-quarter through Venetian locales, courtesy of Arthur Laurents’ 1952 play, The Time of the Cuckoo.
Now a wife of 17 years to tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe and a mother of three preteen daughters, Errico radiates plenty of sparkle, but she stashed most of it to play Leona Samish, the low-burning, late-blooming New York spinster secretary who is susceptible to ruby goblets and Italian charm (care of operatic tenor Richard Troxell).
“This [was] a really good role for me at this time in my life,” she admits. “Leona has spent most of her life taking care of other people … and now she has finally reached the point where ‘this time is for me.’”
Errico is much the same, now emerging from motherhood with true full-steam-ahead abandon. “I feel like I’m starting to come out of a cocoon of sorts,” she confesses. “It’s not just parenting and making the kids. It’s also the confusion and the changes that go with all of that, and now I’m coming out.”
She is doing so in installments via different mediums. First, she brushed up a nightclub act, and it went down so well at Feinstein’s/54 Below that Michael Feinstein is having her back to reprise it Sept. 20. She’ll also reprise that show onboard Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas cruise come February 2017.
“Suddenly, I’ve got a cabaret act—and a new young director proposing I do songs from shows that were written while I was being a crazy mom, actually living some aspects of The Bridges of Madison County or Next to Normal or Far From Heaven. Those mother roles got away from me, but not these songs that I can really relate to.”
Feinstein liked her lyric soprano so much he invited her to London to do a workshop of a musical he wrote with Warner Brown about heiress Barbara Hutton. “It’s called The Gold Room, and it takes place in a gold room, which is an actual room in the London house she built in Regent’s Park,” she says. “Barbara has returned there the evening before it’s to be demolished and meets the young architect whose job it is to bring it down. It seems to be a psychological portrait of her, almost a dream play.”
A more mature Errico is starting to show up on television as well. “Steven Soderbergh put me in the pilot of The Knick, and I did four episodes as the wife of the Chief of Surgery at the Knickerbocker Hospital.”
There’s also some Emmy buzz for her guest performance as a 9/11 widow on Billions. “This woman has a lot of anger because her husband died and less honorable people lived, so she writes a book that outs all the rights and wrongs of this huge firm. They shut her down, they shut her life down, they shut her up.”
Coming back into the business a new woman, Errico embraces her age, and the doors that it is opening to her. “This is what’s happening, I think: I used to be Snow White, right? And now I’m getting witches and stepmoms, people I’ve never had an opportunity to play. … I was called to see if I was interested in a production of Grey Gardens, and then somebody said, ‘We’re going to try to do Sweeney Todd a little young—would you like to play Mrs. Lovett?’
“I feel a new optimism—and a lot of gratitude for the profession I chose. My husband, Patrick McEnroe, is a professional tennis player. Some of them approach 40, but then you’re really done. In our business, you get these other winds because they reflect life. This is a good time for me. The phone is ringing. Bells are ringing.
“The opportunities coming in are reflective of my mid-time in life. David Shire’s new musical, Table, is about the choices and sacrifices a couple makes for a New York restaurant. They’re people having second thoughts midway through their marriage. I don’t think I can even relate to Snow White anymore. That is weird, since I never thought I’d ever understand anyone but Maria in The Sound of Music. Now I can see where Elsa Schraeder is coming from. Now I can sing ‘How Can Love Survive?’”