ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: I Hit EW's Bullseye; Corbin Bleu Is Jesus; Melissa Errico Does Yale by Mail

By Seth Rudetsky
16 Apr 2012

Melissa Errico
Photo by Robb Johnston

At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox I had Melissa Errico as my guest. She's prepping for her new show at Joe's Pub on April 17 at 7 PM. She's a Long Island native and remembers the moment when theatre became her dream. She saw the Broadway revival of On Your Toes at the Virginia Theatre in the early '80s and during the show, she started weeping! Her mother didn't know what was wrong, but Melissa said it was because she was so moved by all the different aspects the show…singing, ballet, tap and wanted to know who those people were and how they got to do that. She was completely riveted and obsessed with it. Cut to: Her first lead on Broadway was ten years later….at the Virginia Theatre! The stagehands heard how obsessed she was with On Your Toes, and one day she came to her dressing room and found that they had gone to the basement and retrieved the original giant placards that were outside the theatre and decorated her room with them! Coincidentally, Christine Andreas who played Frankie in On Your Toes has a very similar voice to Melissa's…soprano but with a smoky grit. Here's a clip of her from 1983 with all the ballet and tap dancers that Melissa was obsessed with

Seth and Melissa
photo by Robb Johnston

Melissa got her big break when she was on her way to Yale (yes, she's a smarty pants). She was auditioning the summer before freshman year for Theater By the Sea and…Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus. I asked her what the H she wanted to do in the circus and she said the audition notice in Backstage said you had to be able to stand on an elephant and she was confident she could do that. Natch. Also, she wanted to be one of those women who hang on a rope from the ankle and spin. Who doesn't? Thankfully, before she auditioned she was spotted in the hallway by Richard Jay-Alexander, who asked her to come in and sing for Les Misérables. She thinks his interest in her was based on her long curly hair, which gave her a Les Miz quality. She sang "A Heart Full of Love" (that has the difficult pianissimo high B flat at the end) and he asked her if she could start in ten days as Cosette on the national tour! Of course, she said yes immediately. Actually, no she didn't! She started arguing with him and said that her B flat wasn't good. He then said, "You should hear what we've hired in the past." Compliment? Insult? Both? Regardless, Melissa decided she could do it but then had to call her parents and ask if she could put off going to Yale! They said yes and she wound up doing her first-year courses via correspondence, or as she called it, "Yale by Mail." She wound up spending so long on the road that she missed a whole year of school. I asked if that meant she had to graduate late and she hemmed and hawed. She finally admitted that she was able to graduate with her class because she began Yale as a sophomore. That's right, she had enough smarty-pants classes/test grades to place out of freshman year! But all of her smarts didn't help when she forgot the lyrics one night to "In My Life." Normally it goes"

In my life
There are so many questions and answers
That somehow seem wrong
In my life
There are times when I catch in the silence
The sigh of a faraway song.

Unfortunately, she panicked one night and could only remember the title. So she sang, "In my life, in my life, in my life, in my life….in my life etc…" However, the most awkward moment for her was during Jean Valjean's death scene. She comes onstage at the end of Act Two with glasses for drinking, puts them down and starts to sing. Unfortunately, one night she dropped the glasses. The sound of breaking glass wasn't the horrible part. That moment came when she started to sing soulfully to her dying father and three stagehands dressed in black came onstage to pick up the broken glass. With a broom? No. With a loud, battery-operated portable vacuum cleaner! I'm sure the audience felt they were right in the middle of France circa 1800s when all the bourgeoisie used "Le Dustbuster."