Exclusive: Melissa Errico on the Time Stephen Sondheim Altered a Lyric for Her

Cabaret & Concert News   Exclusive: Melissa Errico on the Time Stephen Sondheim Altered a Lyric for Her
She is warming up for her November 17–18 Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim concert in NYC, and a new all-Sondheim album.
Melissa Errico

Tony Award nominee Melissa Errico says she’s grateful for the chance to bring her Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim concert back to New York City November 17–18 at Feinstein’s/54 Below, following her sold-out stand at the same club in June.

“It had that excitement of something that would happen once, and be over in a flash! And now we get to do it again!”

The star of Broadway’s Amour (Tony Award nomination); High Society; Dracula, the Musical; My Fair Lady; and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas has performed Stephen Sondheim’s musicals regionally and Off-Broadway (Do I Hear a Waltz?, Passion).

Nevertheless, she felt she needed to do extensive research on the composer for the cabaret show. “I watched and listened to everything I could get my hands on about Sondheim. The more I learned, the more I admired him. I think he represents the very best of all that is intelligent, ironic, introspective, skeptical, urban and cosmopolitan. And within his musicals, hidden in the stories, sitting like a solid truth under the music, is the celebration and confidence of the outsider. I've even started to deeply regret not having a career in the 1970s when he was just reaching his maturity—and could have written something for me! I was newborn then, so I really did miss all the fun. But there is good fortune in being able to retrospect his work: I am in the very early stages of planning my next solo studio album to be recorded in the spring. Produced by Rob Mathes, it will be all Sondheim.”

She has had the privilege of working for the composer of Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and other modern Broadway landmarks, playing Dot in a Kennedy Center production of his Sunday in the Park With George. She says, “The first time I sang for Stephen Sondheim I was in a rehearsal room at the Kennedy Center— fully clothed but lying in an empty bathtub, singing the ‘Color & Light’ sequence. I was playing Dot opposite Raul Esparza, whom I had only met a few days before. We had to dive straight into rehearsal. I remember Raul’s reaction when Steve came in. He became even more passionate and inspired, as he was already singing that manic music ‘red, red, red, red....’ I remember feeling excited and a little bit foolish, pretending to be kicking bubbles in a bath.”

And that’s when she took a chance that led to Sondheim changing one of his lyrics for her. “Having Dot nude in the bathtub in the number was, I’ll confess, my own idea. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed that I wasn’t yet sufficiently knowledgeable about Sondheim to know that you weren’t supposed to suggest alterations like that. I was aware that the bathtub was a bold idea—but I also knew that Impressionist paintings were, historically, full of nude girls in bathtubs. (I was an art history major in college.) My concept was that Dot's nudity would be unashamed and might even accent the rejection when George chooses to cancel their date-night in order to finish the damn hat.

“I took it for granted that Mr. Sondheim would be glad to see a Dot frolicking, Follies-style, in make-believe water instead of at her makeup table, as in the iconic Bernadette Peters performance. I hadn't had time to discuss this concept with him, and being that I was already in a tub, it seemed a bit late to start the discussion. So, I guess the answer is: the first time I sang for him I was, more or less, ‘singing in the shower.’ Fortunately, he liked the idea, and actually altered the lyrics to make them fit the bathtub: after debating ‘more soap,’ he went with ‘more scent.’

Errico is making some alterations in her current show, as well. “I have always wanted to sing this song [“The Miller’s Son” from A Little Night Music], and I'm working on adding it to my set list. It is the most daunting and dazzling of songs, lusty in every sense. Ever since listening to Judy Kuhn sing [“Loving You”] eight times a week when we were doing Passion together, I have loved this song. Out of the context of the show, I have my own attachment to the message of the song and harmonically, it’s a piece of music that’s unparalleled—and heart-wrenchingly romantic. Like all of Fosca’s songs, it has to be sung very straightforwardly to avoid sounding crazy. And I might sing something else from Passion. Maybe a Clara song. Passion, obsession, romantic doom—it’s my material.”

Feinstein’s/54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street, beneath Studio 54, in Manhattan. Tickets, which cost $45 to $85 (plus a $25 food/drink minimum), are now on sale and can be ordered here.

Melissa Errico and Judy Kuhn have been special guest performers on Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas cruises. Cabins are available for Broadway on the Danube River with Michael Feinstein for November 3–13, 2017, also featuring Rachel Bay Jones, Julia Murney, Christopher Fitzgerald, Marc Kudisch, Christopher Sieber, Brandon Uranowitz, and Seth Rudetsky.

Tickets are also now on sale for Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas July 2018 cruise to Iceland, accompanied by Kuhn, Christine Ebersole, Rob McClure, Jarrod Spector, Carmen Cusack, and Sierra Boggess. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.


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