Melissa Errico: “Broadway Baby—From Manhasset to Manhattan & Beyond”
Melissa Errico won a 2023 Bistro Award for her recording, Out of The Dark: The Film Noir Project, a wonderfully chosen and beautifully sung collection of songs from, or reflective of, film noir movies from the ’40s and ’50s. For her latest show which premiered at 54 Below, Broadway Baby—From Manhasset to Manhattan & Beyond, she presented a patchwork of favorite songs reflecting growing up in Manhasset and her later life on Broadway. This broad concept allowed her to present material from her recording career and her theatrical successes and to two of three of her biggest influences—Michel Legrand, Stephen Sondheim, and her father, who was present in the audience along with her mother and whose piano playing had been an early inspiration. Errico was backed by a stellar trio led by the great Tedd Firth on piano, with David Finck on bass, and Mark McLean on drums.
The show featured a guest star each night of its brief run, and on the night I attended the miraculous Marilyn Maye shared the stage with Errico for a Rainbow medley that was a stunning highlight of the show. Working their masterful way through “Look to the Rainbow” (Burton Lane, E.Y. Harburg), “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg), “Make Me Rainbows” (John Williams, Marilyn & Alan Bergman), and, of course, “Rainbow Connection” (Kenny Ascher, Paul Williams), the excitement and appreciative response grew. Maye remains a marvel and a force of nature, while Errico, perhaps inspired by the presence of a mentor, did some her finest singing of the night. In their friendly and entertaining patter (Errico had profiled the 95-year-old phenomenon for the New York Times after observing her preparations for and her triumph at Carnegie Hall), Maye remarked at one point, “It’s simple when you get to be my age…” and then, turning to her younger partner, jokingly said, “You’re not simple yet.” Without intending to, she had pinpointed the main problem with the new show.
While the vocals could not be faulted, her apparent discomfort at certain styles and tempos and her lounge-y, incessant physicality kept getting in the way of her phrasing and storytelling. In a less seasoned performer I would have chalked it up to nerves, but it appeared to be an unfortunate stylistic choice. It took Errico a while to settle in vocally as she sped her way through the opener, “Watch What Happens” (Michel Legrand) into a frantic “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer). The band could not be faulted but she seemed to never settle into their rhythms. Even a turn to Broadway with a quickfire medley of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (Frederick Lowe, Alan Jay Lerner) and “My Favorite Things” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II) failed to center the performance—the incessant movement and using her hands to point to people at the audience or to emphasize lyric imagery and emotion was at the very least an unnecessary distraction, as was the British accent she adopted for the My Fair Lady classic.
Things got considerably better as Errico settled with ease into Sondheim’s hilarious “Can That Boy Foxtrot” done to perfection, followed immediately by the lesser known but equally funny “Confession” (Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz). “The Windmills of Your Mind” (Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman) was beautifully, expressively delivered but even on this internal monologue of a song, she couldn’t stop moving. Reminiscing charmingly about past Broadway experiences led into a captivating take on Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me.” Here, and elsewhere throughout the show, Errico revealed a “tell” (to use a poker term)—whenever she was about to go for a particularly high note she would point directly to the ceiling and close her eyes. It broke my connection to whatever story she was telling in the song. This intrusive affectation became irritating with repeated usage.
Midway through the set, guitarist JC Maillard joined the musicians on stage and, happily, stayed for the rest of the show. A guitar-driven “Night Ride Home” (Joni Mitchell) proved an impressive introduction to his brilliant playing. The vocal could have matched it, if only the singer had let the gorgeous, evocative poetry of the lyric (and her lovely voice) paint the picture without unnecessary movement. A flamenco-influenced arrangement of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World” was the most musically adventurous moment of the night and showcased the blazing talents of both the guitarist and pianist, but Errico’s stylized hand movements proved more awkward than illuminating and were at odds with sense of longing and hope that her vocal embodied. The choreographic bumps and grinds, and the donning of a feather boa, seemed the antithesis of the image the lyrics conjure in Sondheim’s “Broadway Baby,” and pairing it with a “throw-away” arrangement of his “Move On” made the end of the show fall flat.
Earlier, the singer remarked that her daughter had said to her as she was preparing for her appearance, “You’ll never be popular, because you don’t sing Taylor Swift.” As a faux encore, inspired by that opinion, she did a mocking version of “You Need to Calm Down” complete with funny voice that got a laugh but seemed a cheat. How great it would have been for her to take the song and make it her own. For her actual encore, Melissa Errico did a quiet, passionate, moving, and simple version of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (Burton Lane, E.Y. Harburg) that provided the musical and emotional catharsis I had been longing for all night. This was the “Beyond” in the title for which she should be striving.
Presented at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., NYC, November 1-4, 2023.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”