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15 Minutes with Melissa Errico

December 2nd, 2016 Comments off
Melissa Errico (photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico (photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Currently starring in Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Finian’s Rainbow (extended until January 29, 2017), Melissa Errico is re-defining the ingénue. Her self-written feature in The New York Times was a hallmark moment for the 46-year-old actress, who refuses to play to age-based limitations, writing:

The ingénue police are knocking, but I’m not letting them in. They know the great Mary Martin was 46 when she played the young postulant Maria Von Trapp in the original The Sound of Music. (They probably knocked on her door, too.)

And Finian’s Rainbow is a fable always worth retelling, with an absurd plot that is really not absurd at all. It’s about equality, peace, racism and tolerance. It is about a more hopeful America where each person might see beneath the surface of another, and find within oneself a tolerance toward oneself — even a celebration — as we allow our own surfaces to change. 

The Broadway Blog had a chance to catch up with the Tony Award-nominated actress in between shows and an overflowing life with her husband, three daughters, and Yorkshire terrier.

Melissa Errico in 'Finian's Rainbow' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico in ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Why do you think Finian’s Rainbow resonates with today’s audiences?

I’ve done the show over the course over 15 years. Concerts then a full production, then a concert at Town Hall. We opened Oct 25 but by the time we had the election the show was very different.

It’s hitting a nerve, offering a possibly reassuring voice. A model of liberal racial politics — somewhat antiquated — but still a model. Yip (E.R. Harburg, the show’s lyricist and book writer) was a great humanitarian and liberal activist. Finian’s Rainbow is about inclusion and we’re living in a time that many people feel threatened.

At first, I didn’t think that the musical was current. In my dream world I thought we were past that. There’s a terrific dialogue exchange that could come out of today’s headlines:

Senator Billboard Rawkins: Of course it’s legal! I don’t know where you immigrants get these radical, foreign ideas!

Sharon McLonergan: From a wee book the immigration officer handed us. It’s called ‘The United States Constitution.’

Finian McLonergan: Haven’t you read it?

Senator Billboard Rawkins: I don’t have time to read it, I’m too busy defending it!

In particular, what do you think makes this production special in Irish Rep’s intimate space?

Irish Rep’s space has become larger and much more playable since it’s recent renovation. There are still those onstage columns, which are incorporated so beautifully into the set design by James Morgan to create this sort of dreamy plantation or rural forest.

From the actor’s standpoint, it’s tight quarters backstage. There’s no chance of warming up and you can plan on brushing your teeth with someone else. There’s this unspoken agreement to be communal and work together, and the only way to succeed is to be that kind of person. Charlotte Moore (Irish Rep’s artistic director) is a genius to find those kinds of people to cast.

In terms of performance, it’s not a Broadway show where you’re ushered along. You’ll notice that there are no microphones — there’s not a speaker in the building. It’s the audience and the actors. And then this all-female Celtic jazz orchestra sits down and forget about it! There’s a lot of color coming out of those four girls. You’ll never have that kind of experience on Broadway.

This is story theater. There’s no ability for the show to get fake or pretentious. We’re constantly looking for the substance, and to tell that story you have to put your heart out there. And then there’s the technical side of things. If I want to crescendo with everything else happening around me I have to walk toward the audience for my voice to rise above the others. There are a million different levels. It’s hard stuff!

The New York Times piece put a spotlight on women of a certain age in the theater. Do you think there’s a double standard?

The theater community wants women to age and wisen and teach and connect and be sensual. But there aren’t a lot of roles out there. But there’s another culture — the world of concerts — where we can create a strong experience and women are not impotent in that domain.

There are also a million catch-22’s. In my 30’s, while my career was soaring, my doctor said, “Are you ever going to have children?” It’s tricky to be a gal but we wanted to have a family.

Being in our 40s is an interesting time. It’s not that long ago that we felt young, but then we realize that we’re really adults now. I’m certainly not moaning. We each have to work it out in our own way. Lead the way in your wanting.

I want to be an adult in the business, so that’s what’s coming. I have a family. I have things to do on the off weeks. I have three amazing daughters. And yes, I’m also desperate to play certain roles.

(Photo provided by Melissa Errico.)

(Photo provided by Melissa Errico.)

Do you feel there a special skill set for those actors, like yourself, who seem to embrace the classics, like Finian’s Rainbow?

Some people are just born very modern. They’re not given ballet lessons! I had that sort of training and what I call “pretty” lessons, but with an element of trapping a person as a “good girl”— lots of qualities that you find in characters like Leona in Do I Hear a Waltz? or Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest.

I love all the ideas behind these works, too. There’s a bookishness about me. My first big job was Cosette in the first national tour of Les Misérables and you could find me backstage reading the Victor Hugo novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the source material of so many of these great shows.

You recently sang “The National Anthem” at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, what was that like?

I wanted people to remember the country is still there. Hey, I threw in a high “C”!

I was put on the ice in front of 65,000 people to touch their spirit, and for a moment, to lift up that room. It was a chance for that energy to pass through me to the crowd, hoping to bring out the best in everyone for one night. And as performers, we hope they carry a little bit of that out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Theatrical Pot of Gold: Irish Rep’s ‘Finian’s Rainbow’

November 14th, 2016 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

The cast of 'Finian's Rainbow.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Finian’s Rainbow.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

This past week has been a tough one to get through but, for two hours, at any rate, I managed to escape the political madness by visiting the mythical Jim Crow state of Missitucky, enchantingly reimagined in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival of Finian’s Rainbow. This 1947 hit is guilty of occasional silliness and simplistic racial politics (once considered radically progressive). Nonetheless, it never stops pleasing as a tuneful, socially conscious, romantic fantasy laced with moonbeams, a leprechaun, rainbows, and a crock of gold.

Although the aforementioned treasure plays a significant role, the show’s true crock of gold is the eternally delicious score by Burton Lane (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics), filled to overflowing with 17 songs, many of them now standards: most famous, perhaps, is the glorious, impossible-to-stop-humming “How Are Things in Glocca Mora?,” but there are also the up-tempo ballads, such as “Look to the Rainbow” and “Old Devil Moon.” Add spirited numbers like “Necessity,” with its infusion of scat singing, “Something Sort of Grandish,” “That Great Come-and-Get-It Day,” and the gold glows even more brightly.

The cast of 'Finian's Rainbow' at Irish Rep. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ at Irish Rep. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Finian’s Rainbow, for all its datedness (tobacco plays a positive role!), has a surprising number of satirical points whose pertinence still pushes laugh-erupting buttons, including issues of race, wealth, unions, and immigration. Its fanciful plot tells of old Finian McLonergan (Ken Jennings) fleeing from Glocca Morra, Ireland, to Rainbow Valley, America, in the Missitucky mountains, with the magical crock (it provides three wishes to its owner) he stole from the leprechaun Og (Mark Evans); with him is his beautiful daughter, Sharon (Melissa Errico).

Finian plants the gold near Fort Knox, believing its contents will increase. Og pursues the McLonergans, finding himself becoming ever more human as he falls in love with both Sharon and a local girl, Susan the Silent (Lyrica Woodruff), a mute who speaks in ballet gestures. Love also blossoms between Sharon and union organizer Woody Mahoney (Ryan Silverman), within a subplot in which the racist Senator Rawkins (Dewey Caddell) mends his bigoted ways after being turned black by an imprecation from Sharon. By the final curtain, everyone, including the audience, ends up the better for whatever it is they’ve been going through. Would that real life were like this.

Melissa Errico (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Moore has assembled a superb company of 13 to cover a trimmed-down, two-hour (with one intermission) version of Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book, which originally included over 30 performers. While it’s impossible to take seriously anything in the whimsical proceedings, the cast consistently delivers with affecting conviction and charm, led by the marvelous Errico (sweetly convincing as a character half her age), bringing beauty, assurance, happiness, and a gorgeous voice to her every moment.

The company is so good all deserve to be mentioned, beginning with the Mickey Rooney-like Jennings, a tiny tornado who defines the word “lovable,” as the comically irascible Finian; the silver-voiced Silverman (who paired with Errico so excellently in Passion a couple of seasons back) as the handsome Woody; Evans as a tall, spindly Og; and the lyrically lovely Lyrica Woodruff as the sprite-like Susan.

James Morgan’s lovely unit set—suggesting a neutral, vine-covered, Southern environment, with musical notes splashed across the upstage wall—beautifully integrates the Irish Rep’s infamous pillars into the décor. More visual sugar comes from James Toser’s colorful costumes, combining 1940s period wear with fanciful inventions like Finian’s vaudevillian, battered top hat and baggy pants. With the four-musician orchestra ensconced upstage under the expert directorship of Geraldine Anello, and magical lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger, Finian’s Rainbow is as much a pleasure to view as to hear.

Feeling down? Turn off CNN and look to Finian’s Rainbow for a crock of old-fashioned theatre gold.

Finian’s Rainbow
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St., NYC
Through December 31

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

Irish Rep Announces Full Cast of ‘Finian’s Rainbow’

September 28th, 2016 Comments off

Finian's Rainbow

Irish Repertory Theatre (Charlotte Moore, Artistic Director and Ciarán O’Reilly, Producing Director) is proud to full casting for Finian’s Rainbow. Directed and adapted by Charlotte Moore (Da), Finian’s Rainbow begins performances on October 26, 2016 at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J.  Greenburger Mainstage and officially opens on November 6, 2016, running through December 18. Tickets are on sale now through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.

Melissa Errico (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Joining previously announced Tony nominee Melissa Errico as Sharon will be William Bellamy as a Gospeleer, Kimberly Doreen Burns (Grease National Tour) as Lilly Mae, Dewey Caddell (This Life) as Senator, Peyton Crim (“A Crime to Remember”) as Sheriff, Mark Evans (High School Musical, West End) as Og, Matt Gibson (Gypsy) as Buzz Collins, Angela Grovey (Leap of Faith) as Sallyann, Ken Jennings(Sweeney Todd) as Finian, Ramone Owens (Motown the Musical) as a Gospeleer, Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots) as a Gospeleer, Ryan Silverman (Passion) as Woody, and Lyrica Woodruff (“Switched at Birth”) as Susan the Silent.

The groundbreaking 1947 musical Finian’s Rainbow follows an Irishman who steals a feisty leprechaun’s pot of gold and escapes with his daughter, Sharon, to Missitucky, a mythical region in the United States that is part of the Jim Crow South.  The daughter and the sprite each find romance with others, but also encounter bigotry, economic disparity and cultural injustice. The score is spiked with such glorious show tunes as “Old Devil Moon,” “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and “Look to the Rainbow,” plus spicy comic and satiric songs such as “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” and “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich.”

Don’t Miss: Melissa Errico in Encore’s ‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’

April 19th, 2016 Comments off
Melissa Errico (Photo: Michael Lavine)

Melissa Errico (Photo: Michael Lavine)

Tony Award-nominated singer and actress Melissa Errico (My Fair Lady, Amour, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, High Society, Dracula, the Musical, Anna Karenina, Sunday in the Park with George at The Kennedy Center and Passion at CSC) will star in the New York City Center Encores! production of Do I Hear a Waltz?, the romantic, rarely-seen 1965 musical that marked the only collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. The production will run for seven performances at City Center from May 11-15.

Do I Hear a Waltz? tells the romantic tale of Leona Samish (Errico), a middle-class American woman who uses her meager savings for a long-dreamed-of trip to Venice, where she finds love, life, and her truest self. Featuring the ravishing music of a revered master and the sharp-witted lyrics of a genius coming into his own, Do I Hear a Waltz? has not been staged in New York in decades. The musical opened on Broadway on March 18, 1965, and ran for 220 performances.

do i hear a waltzThe production will be directed by Evan Cabnet, with choreography by Chase Brock and music direction by Rob Berman. Errico will be joined in the cast by Tony Award-nominee Sarah Stiles, The Metropolitan Opera’s Richard Troxwell, Broadway’s Claybourne Elder (Bonnie & Clyde, Road Show), Cass Morgan (The Bridges of Madison County, Memphis, Mary Poppins), Sarah Hunt (The Last Ship), and Michael Rosen, Zach Infante & Richard Poe.

Errico, who was recently in London where she starred in a workshop of the new Michael Feinstein/Warner Brown musical The Gold Room, is also featured in the upcoming Jerry Lewis film Max Rose, which received an April 10 premiere at the Museum of Modern Art as the final piece of a MOMA exhibition called “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lewis: The Kid Turns 90.” Errico sings the vocals on a new song by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman that is featured in the closing credits of the film called “Hurry Home.”

Errico has starred on Broadway, on network television and film and is an accomplished recording artist and musical concert performer. She can currently be seen as the character ‘June’ on Showtime’s acclaimed new drama Billions starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Last season, she played the recurring role of ‘Catherine’ on the Stephen Soderbergh show The Knick for Cinemax, and had guest arcs on Blue Bloods and The Good Wife.

Errico has released three studio albums: Blue Like That (EMI Records) produced by Arif Mardin, Legrand Affair (Ghostlight) produced by Phil Ramone, and Lullabies & Wildflowers (VMG/Universal Records) produced by Rob Mathes.

Do I Hear a Waltz?
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
May 11-15, 2016