By Andrew Poretz . . .
<Narrator, over a lonely sax riff> It was a cold, dark night, when the dame called. “The band is ready. There’ll be a ticket with your name. The man at the door will let you in. Don’t say a word. Just take the case.” Sure, I knew it could be trouble. But I never could resist a beautiful dame in a glittery black dress to die for, wearing… furry slippers?
Melissa Errico, star of Broadway and cabaret, and a terrific writer, has outdone herself with her latest show, Out of the Dark: The Film Noir Project, in support of her new album of the same name. This show has taken much work, research, and fun to put together, and it’s obvious. Supported by the brilliant accompanist Tedd Firth with an equally brilliant five-piece band, Melissa sang songs from old American and French film noir movies like “Laura” and “Pau d’Ane,” along with newer material from the likes of David Shire and Adam Gopnik. Melissa was in spectacular voice, looking every inch the femme fatale, and was utterly charming.
About that glittery black dress: It is a bespoke masterpiece designed for Melissa during the pandemic by Eric Winterling, and was the subject of her article in The New York Times last May. “The dress needed to say femme fatale — betrayal! cruelty! jazz! — while, of course, covering my arms,” with a neckline inspired by Jane Greer’s in the 1947 noir film “Out of the Past.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/theater/melissa-Melissa-costume-fitting.html )
After singing the very obscure verse to “Angel Eyes” (Matt Dennis/Earl Brent), Melissa spoke in the cadence of a film noir narrator. “I live in two worlds. In one, I’m here. In the other, I’m not here,” she deadpanned to much laughter. She is funny. “It’s a wonderful audience. I always say that… I don’t always mean it.” She then returned to “Angel Eyes,” which featured the great Russell Malone’s terrific guitar solo.
A gorgeous ballad from City of Angels, “With Every Breath I Take” (Cy Coleman/David Zippel), showed off Melissa’s sultry side, with a short, sexy sax solo by David Mann.
“Farewell, My Lovely,” written for the 1975 film of the same name by David Shire, featured new lyrics by Adam Gopnik. Scott Wendholt’s smokin’ trumpet solo added greatly to the emotional delivery. “The sax,” Melissa declared, “is the sound of the lonely city stranger. The trumpet, for me, is the sound of pain.”
No Melissa Errico show is complete without at least one French song. Tonight’s French pairing included On Vit, On Aime” (music by Peter Foley, lyrics by Adam Gopnik and Peter Foley). The song was commissioned of Peter Foley, a college friend who died suddenly last year at age 54, after they spent time watching Le Diaboliques together. Her long patter leading up to this clever song seemed totally off the cuff, and delightful.
Oscar Levant was a famously neurotic, depressed, acerbically witty genius, actor and pianist. Levant was “noir before there was noir,” Melissa proclaimed. He also wrote a standard, “Blame it On My Youth” (lyrics by Edward Heyman). Although Melissa sung several obscure verses tonight, she omitted the relatively well-known verse. When asked later about this, she asserted, “It’s sexist.” Though she did record the verse for the album recording, she ultimately had it excised from the final mix. Still, this was one of the best songs of the set, with a sultry sax solo that modulated up to Melissa’s final section.
Sitting on the piano for the final song – another film noir trope — Melissa sang “Again” (Lionel Newman/Dorcas Cochran). She delivered it upbeat and smiling, delighting in the moment, far from Ida Lupino’s smoky-voiced chanteuse in 1948’s Roadhouse.
This was a terrific show and performance in all respects. Each table was supplied with cards, buttons and branded matchbooks with the album’s cover art on them. The club even had a drink named after Melissa for the occasion, “The Melissa Noir” (Casamigos Reposado tequila, Grand Marnier, fresh lime juice, and Arrowood cabernet float). While Melissa’s personality, writing and flawless singing held to her vision for the show and album, Firth’s arrangements contained brilliant harmonies and counterpoints for sax and trumpet that gave the quintet an aural, polyphonic illusion of a much bigger band. Some of Melissa’s best moments occur when things go a bit off-script. She’s always right there with an ad lib, laughing at herself and the situation with girlish appeal.
Lauren Bacall once told Melissa, “Darling, you’re going to be a star. What you need is a scandal.” Luckily, she didn’t need a scandal. Here’s looking at you, kid.
PHOTOS: David Rosen
Musical director and accompanist: Tedd Firth
Guitar: Russell Malone
Sax: David Mann
Trumpet: Scott Wendholt
Bass: David Finck
Drums: Eric Halvorson
Out of the Dark: The Film Noir Project
February 18 & 19, 2022
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY