She is tall and slim and radiant, he is lanky and wiry and intense, and every night they make beautiful music together. Michel Legrand's music.
This, on the stage of the Music Box Theatre, where Melissa Errico is the lovely, lonely, ill-treated Isabelle and Malcolm Gets the ill-treated, lonely Dusoleil, a milk-toast civil servant who miraculously finds himself able to pass through walls — and forthwith transforms himself into Monsieur Passepartout, a mysterious cat burglar who sets le tout Paris abuzz and much of its feminine quotient longing to make the dashing outlaw's acquaintance.
But, as it happens, it is Isabelle who gets to share with Passepartout — better yet, with good, decent Dusoleil — one single exquisite night of Amour. Which, as it further happens, is the title of this Broadway show that started out in the 1950's as a short story by Marcel Ayme, was subsequently made into a film and later, thanks to Michel Legrand, into a musical (Le Passe-Muraille, i.e., The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls) that was the hit of Paris five years ago.
For Melissa Errico and Malcolm Gets, the common denominator is Michel Legrand.
The composer has always been one of the heroes of the Errico family, out there in Manhasset, Long Island, where this spirited and most fetching actress/singer grew up. Her parents are Angela DeFilippi Errico and orthopedic surgeon cum one-time concert pianist Michael Errico. "You know, Italian romantics. My father wooed my mother with 'The Windmills of Your Mind' and 'I Will Wait for You,' and she'd come running over to the piano to kiss him." Hugh Malcolm Gerard Gets, who at 15 decided to switch from piano to acting, is one of four children of a father in publishing, a mother in teaching the handicapped young — "who have been together 50 years, and both play piano. So, of course, I grew up knowing most of Michel Legrand's songs, and absolutely am a big fan of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and of his score for Yentl."
Of the Michel Legrand whom Gets has now come to know in the flesh, the actor/singer says: "An amazing writer, an amazing piano player, a great jazz artist. There's a kind of impishness in him, a real purity, like a little boy, an innocence — the same innocence that's in the show."
The appraisal is echoed by Gets's co-star. "Michel Legrand is . . . definitely . . . a woman's man . . . handsome . . . romantic. . . incredibly French. He's warm; that's the word, warm. When he's happy, he's ten years old. Not shy. Not analytic. He's proof that you never grow up."
It was when Errico was on her "Broadway sabbatical" in La La Land a couple of years ago — "doing sitcoms and five movies and three pilots" — that she received by fax from her L.A. manager word about a Michel Legrand musical bound for New York.
"The [fax] paper started glowing. So I called my Los Angeles manager — now my ex Los Angeles manager, who thinks Michel Legrand is a woman. I said: 'This is unbelievable, a new Michel Legrand show,' and she said: 'Yes, I love her.' My jaw hit the floor, but no argument — I flew back to New York and headed for the 42nd Street studios where the show was being workshopped."
Truth to tell, Errico wasn't all that up to speed herself. "I wasn't born when those movies [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair, etc.] were being made. To me," says the actress (born March 23, 1970), "it was like someone saying that Cole Porter had a new musical out."
"You know," says Malcolm Gets (born December 28, 1963), "I grew up [in Florida] on old MGM movies, and my favorites were people like Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye. This role, Dusoleil, is what one of those men would have played. It's the chance for me to be a little like Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, all of those guys.
"Especially," says the actor whose burning dark eyes preside over a lean and hungry jaw, "since the last time out [in Boys and Girls at Playwrights Horizons] I played an insane, totally tortured alcoholic." Not to mention Richard Karinsky, embittered, frustrated artist — "but I love that character" — whom Gets played for four years on NBC's "Caroline in the City."
Gets and Errico go back together to Yale, sort of, depending on which one you listen to. "No, we never actually met there," he says, immediately followed by: "Yes, we did. By then she was already a legend. So beautiful. And she'd gone off for a year [at 18] to do Cosette in Les Miz."
Whereas she remembers: "Malcolm was in graduate school [at Yale Drama] when I was an undergraduate at Yale, and he was one of the nice guys who would talk to you. Then, he and I met again when we starred in the pre-Broadway workshop of Triumph of Love. We were the home team. That was the year," she dryly adds, "that I chose to do High Society," not among the high points of her career.
She's had plenty of triumphs since, most lately as Dot in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park With George at the Kennedy Center. (Lapine has also directed Amour.) Gets has reaped his own crop of hurrahs, notably in Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along.
"When this show puts its best foot forward," says Amour's Dusoleil, its Passepartout, "that best step is its score." Fair Isabelle couldn't agree more.