DIVA TALK: A Conversation with Two-Time Tony Nominee and Passion Star Melissa Errico

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01 Mar 2013

Melissa Errico
Melissa Errico

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Melissa Errico
In 2002 Melissa Errico was acclaimed for her performance as Dot in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park With George, part of the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, yet her role in the Classic Stage Company's current Off-Broadway revival of Passion marks the first time the luminous singing actress has tackled a Sondheim musical in New York City. And, Sondheim's innumerable fans will be happy to learn that not only is Errico's performance a winning one—her rich, rangy soprano as glorious as ever—but the entire musical seems to have benefited from the intimate staging now playing CSC through April 7. I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of the original 1994 Broadway production. Despite wonderful performances, I found it difficult to accept Girogio's ultimate decision, yet I was moved several times by John Doyle's Passion. Whether it's the performances—a thrilling trio led by Errico, Judy Kuhn and Ryan Silverman—the direction, familiarity with the score, my own experiences over the past 19 years, or all of these, Passion now sings with an emotional intensity that draws audiences into this haunting love story. Prior to seeing this production, I had the chance to chat with the multitalented Errico, who first caught my attention years ago in the 1993 revival of My Fair Lady and continued to dazzle in City Center Encores! productions of Call Me Madam (her crystal-clear delivery of the little-heard "Ocarina" still rings in this writer's ears) and One Touch of Venus as well as in her Tony-nominated turns in Amour and White Christmas. Yet, her work in Passion is even more impressive. Errico finds depth and also grit in Clara, and her ultimate realization that she has lost a somewhat maddened Giorgio is extremely moving. In our recent chat Errico, a mom of three, spoke in depth about her latest stage role; that interview follows.

Question: How did the role of Clara come about for you?
Melissa Errico: It came about the old-fashioned way. I got an audition! Maybe the fortuitous thing was I was asked to perform at Patti LuPone's lifetime achievement award last year around March. Kevin Kline performed and Kristin Chenoweth and Laura Benanti and Sutton Foster. I mean, it was a really glowy night. And, I was asked to sing Nancy in Oliver for that, even though I hadn't done [that role] yet, but I was about to do it with Brian Stokes Mitchell. And, John Doyle directed [the LuPone tribute]... and we worked together on putting together this tribute. My audition was like three days later. So it was a little bit of a one-two punch, where I got to work for him, and work with him, and listen to him—be directed by him—interpret Nancy, and then work on Clara. Just a good chance to meet a director I'd never met before, which is always important—starting relationships… I got the job right away. Sondheim and Lapine didn't need to meet me, they said, which was cool. [Laughs.] I've worked with [Lapine] so many times. I've worked with him with Randy Newman on the original productions of Faust, where Kurt Deutsch and Sherie Rene Scott were cast as co-stars and then fell in love and have this illustrious marriage now. And then I worked with him on Sunday, and then I worked with him on Amour with Michel Legrand.


Errico in Passion.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Everybody seems to love working with John Doyle. What makes him so special as a director?
Errico: When you hear that you think…it's all malarkey, but then, when you actually do work with him, you realize that he's different than anyone in the world. It's really interesting—you spend almost every day dissecting the script from a different angle. Everyone on the stage, for example, one day, will have to focus all of our collective attention on a letter. If there's a letter in the scene, the letter is the focus. Everything that has to do with this letter. Now, of course, this play is all about letters. Letters are being passed around, letters are being written, letters are being sung, letters are being received. Mentally, the person is singing the [letter] that they had read, while the other person is on the other side of the stage writing it—it's all these letters. So one day you'll be with letters, the next minute, he'll be talking to you about rank—who is more important or who would like to go out to dinner with Fosca… Nobody! [Laughs.] So stand closest to the person that you would like to spend time with, so you end up getting all these senses of where the hotspots are—where your relationships are—then you understand rank. Then you talk about entrapment, whether it's the military or it's marriage or it's your gender or it's the 1830s, and so you spend a whole day thinking about it in terms of where you are trapped, in which ways you are restricted. By the end of six weeks—or five or six weeks—of rehearsals, you feel like the entire company is sort of mentally entangled. I know where every actor is. I feel like Jason [Michael Evans], who plays one of the soldiers, or Jeffry Denman—I feel like they've got my back. It's hard to explain. They shouldn't have Clara's back—they aren't even in any scenes with her, but they are sort of mentally because, in some ways, the soldiers are now really incorporated into the story. They stand around, they move chairs, they sing kind of like a Greek chorus—kind of in relation to the plot; whoever's suffering they sing…these complicated harmonies, and they're singing back these echoes—these themes. It's not just like, "Oh, now the chorus is singing their part." They come forward, and they feel completely important. And, we feel they're completely important, and there's none of this "my part, your part."

It's a long way of saying that John Doyle creates a company. He creates a sense of a fabric—that we're all a part of a fabric—and we all are in service to this fabric. None of us are more important than the other, and that it is Giorgio's story. He made that very clear that we are ultimately telling Giorgio's story, as much as Fosca is in our minds with Donna Murphy [winning the Tony for the original Broadway production] and the history of this story—we always think of her. The truth is—Sondheim has often said, too—that when he watched the Ettore Scola movie, he was struck by the fact that this beautiful soldier was starting to fall for this awful, sickly woman, and he said, "I realized soon into watching the movie, the movie was not going to be about her, but about how he falls in love with her and how he changes." His transformation—the turn in him—is what we're all waiting for.


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