I recently asked the celebrated singing actor to pen a list of her most memorable nights onstage:
I will never forget my first professional performance ever in the Premiere Compagnie Nationale (as it was called in the ’80s!!) of Les Misérables. I was 18 and was pulled out of my freshman year at Yale and asked if I could start in ten days. (I was the first replacement of Cosette!) I flew to Chicago and learned the show fast, and on that night my whole world changed. I'll never forget being dressed as a beggar (Cosette doubles in the opening song “At The End of The Day” and then a prostitute for “Lovely Ladies”), and knowing I was in this incredible machine about to take off. I'll never forget the first time I stepped on the huge revolving floor and had to pretend to be picking beans in a field. The orange/yellow lighting was so gorgeous, and I felt like I was in a French painting. I had this inside thrill knowing that I was hiding my face from the audience who would soon meet me as Cosette. I felt like I had walked into a living series of paintings—like a movie, but real people doing things in real time (not stopping like you would if you were filming). Everything was so beautiful—actors full of dirty faces, hair styles from a historical time, and rich scenes and songs flowing one into another with an orchestra playing—I was so happy and fascinated.
I remember one night during Amour at the Music Box Theatre when I had to sing that beautiful Legrand song, “Somebody,” on my balcony. The show had a lot of set problems (the Boulangerie fell on the first row on our first preview; no one was hurt, but that wasn't good). One night my balcony got attached to a bad wire, and I started tilting and felt the whole little balcony leaning. My laundry basket started to slide off, and I heard a tight, scary noise like wood creaking and something nearly snapping. I was at about a 45 degree angle, clutching the basket, and I knew there was a bad error. No one said anything, so I sang the entire dreamy song kind of sideways, hearing occasional bad groans like a glacier shifting. As I sang the last loooooong note, the curtain gently descended. The show was stopped a while as they sorted out the problem. I'll never forget singing while hanging by a thread. Jean Doumanian (producer of so many great Woody Allen classic movies) was our producer and called me at home that night thanking me for staying so calm!
This whole experience was basically memorable (I had fun with Kelli O’Hara backstage urging me to have babies someday—by now she and I have birthed a preschool!)—but one night comes to mind when I couldn't find the knife in the coffin at the end to kill Tom Hewitt in the Finale. I had to stare at him and say (with my eyes), “Hang on, I can't stab you. I can't find the bloody knife—sorry, sorry.” He died later. Of course, the intense first bite/seduction scene wasn't always smooth if he couldn't get his fangs in fast enough!
Dress Rehearsal for Sunday in the Park with George
I stepped out for dress rehearsal on the empty Opera House stage at The Kennedy Center for our first tech run of Sunday in the Park with George. There was no audience yet, and little did we even know how they would come to cheer and love this production. We were just so focused that day. I looked at Raul Esparza [our George] in his costume. I was dressed to sing “Move On.” I looked at conductor Rob Berman. The three of us had a look between us that will never leave us. We were so overwhelmed with gratitude and awe of the piece of theatre we were a part of.
It was that moment—looking at Rob. My heart overflowed with the power of Sondheim and the play. We were so glad to the bottom of our hearts. That musical is a miracle.…
I’ll never forget the pre-Broadway tryout of High Society at the gorgeous Geary Theater. Not only was the young Anna Kendrick a delight and the great John McMartin a total hoot as Uncle Willie, but the whole show was really fun to do. One night I was onstage for the opening song, standing on a pedestal with ladies fixing my dress at my feet, and Randy Graff’s microphone turned on instead of mine. She was upstairs warming up and making the craziest sounds—squeaks and vocal slides and sometimes singing along with my song. But the sound man got confused and kept her mic on for the first full two verses! I was singing, but her voice was going to the audience. That night in San Francisco, the audience thought Tracy Lord was totally insane. The gals facing upstage near my feet were literally passing out laughing. But I had to face front!!!
Check out photos of Melissa Errico in the current production of Finian's Rainbow:
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected].
Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.