DIVA TALK: A Conversation with Two-Time Tony Nominee and Passion Star Melissa Errico

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01 Mar 2013

Errico with Ryan Silverman and Judy Kuhn in rehearsal.

Question: Had you seen the original production, and also did you go back to watch the movie?
Errico: I did. I did everything! I've done so much… I've had such a nerdy ride for this… I was at the original. I went on a date with my then boyfriend, the director of My Fair Lady, and that was one of our big dates when I was like 22 years old. We went on a date to see Passion.… It was a night off from My Fair Lady, and we went to see Passion together. It was a preview.

Question: Do you remember your response?
Errico: I do remember the audience laughing…with discomfort. I was in my very early 20s… Maybe I didn't understand. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, this woman!" When she came on to the train, I mean everyone laughed. And, that was why Sondheim said that it was so painful, that that's why he wrote "Loving You" just before opening night. It went in during previews because that train scene just did the audience in. They just laughed. They just were not on her side, and that "Loving You" was going to help that. Judy Kuhn, I don't think, has those problems. She's a different performer, and her interpretation is a little more understated and equally as grief-stricken and lonely—an unloved person—but perhaps a little easier and more palatable approach. I worship Donna Murphy, and that intensity has a place in this, too, but Judy has done it differently.

Question: How did you go about approaching the role of Clara?
Errico: Well, Clara has the same kind of trap where it can be typed. First of all, the first thing I thought of was, "Oh great, now I've got to be nude." [Laughs.] She's a lover, and she's pretty. That's pretty much all I remembered because, again, it was 20 years ago, and I wasn't the most sophisticated person. I wasn't necessarily understanding the complexity of love affairs and all that. But, what struck me right away, now in reading it, was that she's a mom. She's a mother, and the sort of erotic life of a mother—once your child is up and running and so on—there are these blanks in your own life, definitely in Clara's life. I found so much in it that I didn't know was there. I don't think that she is particularly unhappy in every way in her marriage. I got some cues from a book that's referred to… There's a book by Rousseau called "Julie," and the opening sentence, when Fosca enters, she says, "Oh I read the Rousseau novel, and the character of Julie is a great mystery," and I thought to myself, "Oh, I want to read that." … It's about a married woman having an affair. And, it just happens to be interesting because her husband is not a bad guy, and he wants her to be happy, but there's a spark lacking. There's something he can't reach in her, and there's a heightened happiness, a passion, a fire—insanity, actually, is what the book is about. The Rousseau novel is about an insanity of abandon that her husband just cannot bring to her life. And, she gets into this love affair. And, in reading that novel, I definitely saw that it was very, very useful for Clara. She's not abused, and I don't think her husband is an old man… I think he's a perfectly nice person, but Clara met this soldier, and there's this fantasy life that just sweeps her away. And, Sondheim's music gets so erotic, and I never recognized that before. I think John Doyle has really, really helped. I have no costume changes. Clara doesn't have to be nude, but I'm sort of undressed a bit… But most of the play I'm just in the same dress. I know that Clara had many, many costume changes in the original production—beautiful, beautiful clothes and dresses and parasols and hats. I have none of that. All I have is my mind, and I'm like a wandering mother, who has spare time. And, she is fixated on this sexy soldier, who has spiraled her into this passion—into a sexual, erotic life—and she's lost in it. And, she just goes bananas for a while.

Eventually, Giorgio asks her if she'll leave her husband, and she just wouldn't—she couldn't. She would lose her child. She's not willing to give up everything for Giorgio, so when the rubber hits the road, she's not going to do it. And, Fosca, of course, intensifies her emotions for Giorgio, and he…realizes that Clara's got a limit to how far this will go for her. I'm not saying it wasn't in the original, I'm just saying we found so much. And I think being a mom myself to three little girls, and just applying some of that sense of responsibility and sense of absorption—the way they absorb you. And, I can just apply that to 1830s Italy, and then it's given this fantasy—it's a fantasy. And, it's tormenting for her if she's actually asked, "Would you actually leave your husband and child?" It's like no—she couldn't. She's too responsible. It's too big a commitment, but so, for a while, she's allowed this erotic dream. That's the kind of things that I've been thinking about and working with. It's been a thrill.


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