By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Big dreams, big city. Will you make it after all? Will you even make it at all? It’s an oft-told tale, to be sure, but it takes someone like Melissa Errico to transform such a possibly ordinary story into something extraordinary, which is precisely what she does in “Melissa Errico Sings New York,” her must-see new show at Feinstein’s/54 Below (with an added date on October 16!)
If I have one minor criticism, it’s that her show should be re-titled “Melissa Errico Sings and Speaks New York,” because what’s onstage is actually a musical memoir, chock full not only of great songs (gorgeously performed of course), but also wonderful recollections of her own life, smart observations about how to survive – and thrive – in New York, and a smattering of spot-on observations from writers as witty as Dorothy Parker, John Updike and Nora Ephron. Indeed, with a little expansion and some fine-tuning, this show would feel completely at home at a small Off-Broadway theater.
Of course, for now, one mostly comes to 54 Below to hear Errico show off her expressive golden pipes, and she does so brilliantly – in both expected and unexpected ways. An opening snippet of “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line is vocally transcendent; Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” (from Show Boat) – a tribute to her Aunt Rose who performed on Broadway and in the Ziegfeld Follies – is deliciously droll; and her rendition of Kurt Weill and Odgen Nash’s “Speak Low” – which Errico performed to enormous acclaim in a 1996 City Center Encores! production – is simply sublime.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Errico handles two of Stephen Sondheim’s most difficult songs (lyrically and musically), “Another Hundred People” (from Company) and “Uptown/Downtown” (cut from Follies) with complete aplomb. And while one may not think of Errico as a “pop singer,” she is equally at ease with Joni Mitchell’s exuberant “Chelsea Morning” and Judy Collins’ contemplative “Since You Asked.” (She might want to reconsider her penultimate number, Laura Nyro’s “To a Child,” simply because I suspect the song needs more musical accompaniment than pianist par excellence Tedd Firth can provide.)
A highlight of her September 27 show were her two duets with the incomparable Paulo Szot, who graciously came by on his night off from Broadway’s Chicago, to join her on the Broadway ballads “Lonely Town” (from On the Town) and “Make Someone Happy (from Do Re Mi). While the pair had previously performed together on Zoom, this was their first in-person meeting and Errico’s giddiness in finally sharing a live stage with Szot was nothing short of adorable. (And believe me, there is nothing in the world like being just footsteps away from Paulo Szot!)
For me, though, the show’s most touching moment was a loving remembrance not just of her wedding to tennis star Patrick McEnroe (who was in the audience) but a photo of her dancing at the reception with her friend and mentor, the great choreographer Donald Saddler. Their song was Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ classic love ballad “The Way You Look Tonight,” which Errico sang with appropriate tenderness.
Like much of Errico’s past few decades, that moment in her life was not even a dream for the 13-year-old girl from Long Island. But once it happened, it was a reality never to be forgotten – much like this marvelous show.
Melissa Errico Sings Her New York returns to Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on Saturday, October 16. For tickets and information, visit www.54Below.com