In the first of a series of Q&As with musical theatre stars, Broadway’s MELISSA ERRICO shares her love of Sondheim and reveals her desert island dreams…
Melissa Errico has been called the “finest interpreter of Sondheim’s music in America today” [The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik] and she will shortly be in the UK to perform at Live at Zedel in the Crazy Coqs, just a stone’s-throw away from London’s Piccadilly Circus. On the eve of her London solo debut, she spoke to The Stephen Sondheim Society about the songs, roles and lyrics that she holds most dear from Sondheim’s output.
1. What are your 3 favourite Sondheim songs and why?
Unfair question! It’s been hard enough getting my concert down to 16 songs! I’ll answer this but I will be changing my mind by the time I get to the end of my reply…
I love “I Remember” from Evening Primrose because it’s a sublime song, a mood song, a trance-like poem in a sense, about memory and what we choose to remember. I adore “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd because there’s pure love in it — it is perfect proof that Sondheim teaches us to protect the most helpless ones we find. I love the Act One finale to Sunday in the Park with George because it represents everything I believe in – radically unlike people coming together in harmony, people of all kinds in a beautiful ensemble. Ok, now can I start my answer again, with three more!?
2. What was your favourite Sondheim role and why?
Dot in Sunday in The Park With George. I loved portraying her because she has so many wonderful songs – and moments – about making choices. She struggles to talk herself into loving Louis (everyone else loves him!), and she holds some good debates with George and inside herself. The role is full of learning to choose, and the cost of certain choices, and the fact that we have to keep making choices in life, in order to survive.
3. What Sondheim role would you most like to play and why?
I’m going to skip over the ones that could possibly happen in the short term. I would hate to jinx myself! Actresses all have dreams. Maybe it’s best to keep them to your prayers. In the event that anyone reads this and the proverbial lightbulb might go off, I am ready to sing “Send in The Clowns” [Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music] eight shows a week. Down the road, I sure would like a shot at Mrs Lovett! I must get to sing “…a little priest!” Angela Lansbury is everything.
4. What Sondheim lyric do you carry with you in your life?
“Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.” [from “Children Will Listen”, Into The Woods]
5. What has Sondheim brought to your life and career?
Sondheim himself? As a teacher, both directly and from studying him (listening to interviews and reading about him), he has brought me the ability to take criticism (to want it) and to trust myself, all at the same time. Strive and correct – but also take charge. The little I know of him outside of work, Sondheim seems to not like self-deprecation – I think he feels some of us waste a good deal of energy pulling ourselves down. Self-deprecation isn’t cute – it isn’t good for ourselves and it isn’t good for the human community.
While we have you can we ask a few more questions?! London is looking forward to welcoming you this month. And this is your solo debut. Why have we had to wait so long to hear you? Any why now? Is there a particular reason?
I did sing at the Palladium with Angela Lansbury when I was pregnant with the twins. (They are nine years old now; I have three daughters.) Barbara Cook was due to do a Jerry Herman tribute with Angela but Barbara wasn’t well and had to cancel. I was called to jump in and sing. I bought a gorgeous gown – the most expensive gown I have ever bought (cost the same as my wedding dress!!) because I was so honoured and excited to make my London debut. A dream come true… Two weeks later, on opening night, as I tried to put the gown on at my London hotel, it no longer fit! The twins were growing fast and I luckily had a backup with me. A cheap but very pretty purple chiffon number.
So, I do have a glorious memory of London, singing Mack & Mabel and Dear World songs and much more! Angela Lansbury would sit with me backstage between numbers, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra would be playing, and I had my hands on my big belly. She gave me wonderful life advice that night which I always carry with me… a subject for another time!
Why now? I guess because this composer feels like something our two cities share. London always has a pivotal production of his work going on! I look forward to sharing Sondheims.
Your show Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim had wonderful reviews at Feinstein’s/54 Below. What can the audience expect and will the show be essentially the same or are you adapting it for a London audience? Any spoilers? Any hints?
One spoiler is that Mr Sondheim has asked me to sing a song in London from Roadshow.
If you have any spare time, is there anything you really want to do while you’re here? (We can’t promise we can deliver – but we might know a person that can!)
I want to see Jeremy Irons in his O’Neill play [A Long Day’s Journey Into Night]. I played opposite him in two productions of Camelot so I’m trying to track him down.
Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim… 22 and 24 February (7 pm) and 25 Feb (7 pm and 9.15 pm) at the Crazy Coqs/Live at Zédel, Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood St, Soho, London W1F 7ED.
Members of The Stephen Sondheim Society are invited to an exclusive Q&A with Melissa before her performance on 25 February – check your Society email for details.