Melissa Errico: from Broadway to cabaret

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  April 5, 2002 at 1:57 PM
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NEW YORK, April 5 (UPI) -- Melissa Errico has proved herself to be the best and brightest of the younger leading ladies in Broadway musicals but there have been few stage roles for her in recent seasons. So she has turned to cabaret.

Her debut club act, "New Standards," is having a three-week run at the Hotel Carlyle's prestigious Café Carlyle, running through April 13. It's a show worth catching before New York loses Errico to temporarily to Washington, where she will star as Dot, the role originated by Bernadette Peters, in a spring revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George" at Kennedy Center.

Errico is a slight woman with a delicately featured face surrounded by tangled mop of brunette curls. Her soprano voice is pure gold and perfectly pitched with a sweetness that carries into its powerful upper register. It is the perfect instrument for a song like "I Could Have Danced All Night" from "My Fair Lady," which she sings toward the end of the evening.

Eliza in "My Fair Lady" is a role forever associated with Julie Andrews, but Errico -- who was cast in the role in the show's last Broadway revival -- has also made it her own. In "New Standards" she even takes on Prof. Henry Higgins' song, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," changing the "her" to "his," and gets away with it -- beautifully.

These memorable songs by Alan J. Lerner and Fritz Loewe are just a few of the arrows in Errico's quiver full of bulls-eye hits. Her songbook includes favorites by Randy Newman, who won the 2002 Oscar for best original song in a movie, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Michel Legrand, Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell, Henry Mancini, Jule Styne, and Sondheim's "Move On" from "Sunday in the Park."

Standouts are "The Song is You" by Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, her opening number, "There's A Small Hotel" by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, "Speak Low," by Weill and Ogden Nash, Porter's "It's All Right With Me, "Moment to Moment" by Mancini with Johnny Mercer, and "Never, Never Land" by Stein with Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Particularly effective are her renditions of Newman's "When She Loved Me" from the film "Toy Story 2" and "Fotographia" by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim with an English translation by Ray Gilbert. It's a shame Jobim's lovely music isn't used by more cabaret performers. Errico cleverly followed it up "Photograph," a rhythmically contrasting song by Dori Caymmi.

These three selections, along with Oleta Adams' "You've Got To Give Me Room," Joni Mitchell's "Night Ride Home," and Dave Frishberg's "Do You Miss New York?" demonstrate Errico's desire to reach beyond Broadway standards for songs that will give her cabaret work a more contemporary flavor.

Errico is accompanied at the piano by Lee Musiker and on bass by Jay Leonhart, a winning duo.

The songstress has come a long way since her first success in a revival of Rodgers and Hart's "On Your Toes" in 1983, which she recalls by singing "There's a Small Hotel." She has sung Cosette in "Les Miserables" and the leads in the musical version of "Anna Karenina," "My Fair Lady," and "High Society," the musical adaptation of "The Philadelphia Story."

In 1996, she won the coveted Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding performance by an actress for her performance in Weill's "One Touch of Venus" in the New York City Center "Encores!" series. More recently she has worked in television and film appearing in the TV series "Central Park West, "The Norm Show," and "Ed."

Errico will be seen in the soon-to-be-released film comedy "Life, or Something Like It," and she has just completed recording her debut album of songs for Capitol Records. Broadway may not be beckoning with one of those leading roles in the musical theater she deserves, but she has no trouble keeping busy.

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