“Love takes time—entirely too much, but sublime.”
So sing Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Rigg in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music before enduring a waltz of adultery, resentment, and mismatched partners. For artists and audiences who have experienced the work of the composer, “love” perhaps stands in for his lyrics—an equally complex and emotion-ridden concept to navigate.
Melissa Errico, an alum of such Sondheim shows as Sunday in the Park With George, Passion, and Do I Hear a Waltz?, aims to celebrate the sublime qualities of his lyrics and melodies on her new album—aptly titled Sondheim Sublime—out November 2.
The term brings the Tony Award nominee back to her days as an art history major. “I was obsessed with the history of painting,” she told Playbill at her album release party October 30, before offering a quick art history lesson of her own. “When something was considered sublime, it was considered so beautiful but slightly terrifying. It’s a feeling of joy sometimes, but with an element of sadness or tears. It’s beauty tipped over the edge.”
Identifying that visceral reaction helped Errico hone in on select numbers from the composer’s expansive oeuvre, uniting the album’s tracks not just by writer and performer, but through their wisdoms: “I'm at a certain point in my life where I want to use and process the things I've learned in the theatre. And no one's a better teacher than Stephen Sondheim.”
The songs offer “healing, special, and loving” lessons that, for Errico, speak to her own life experiences and, in a larger context, current climates. Pieces like “Children and Art” and “No More” illuminate a maternal sense of protection, while “Sooner of Later” (which Errico performed atop a piano at her party) and “The Miller’s Son” elicit a determination to find pleasure in bleak times.
Through exploring Sondheim’s work—either in a show, on an album, or through her current engagement at Feinstein's/54 Below—Errico feels better equipped to ponder: “How does one generation hold hands with the next and the one before us? How can we add to the next generation and not leave bitter?”
As she sang “With So Little to Be Sure Of” and “Not While I’m Around” in the presence of fellow Sondheim interpreters (including Karen Ziemba and Ken Jennings) and her own three daughters, it was evident: an answer lies somewhere in Sondheim’s verbal artistry.