Tony Award-nominee Melissa Errico will once again share her sensational talents with Bay Street’s audience this December. Errico is headlining Season for Joy, a special virtual holiday concert, on Thursday, December 10.
“I hope what I do has some part in the American tradition of making joyful music now while looking towards a better future soon,” Errico told us about her upcoming projects. Her Bay Street show will no doubt leave viewers feeling merry, as will the Meet Me in St. Louis Irish Repertory Theatre Holiday Special she is starring in.
We caught up with the songstress about her Bay Street spectacular, family holiday traditions, most beloved seasonal tunes, an exciting collaboration, and much more.
Tell us about the genesis of Season for Joy and what the evening will entail.
ME: Season for Joy came about because my good friends at the Bay Street Theater really enjoyed one of my swing concerts – you know, sequins, Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart – and asked if I might help them throw a kind of holiday party this winter. We weren’t sure if it would be safe to do it on their stage, but we think we can open the doors and have me sing alone with a limited camera crew, and my trusty partner, the great jazz pianist Tedd Firth. The set list is a kind of playful seminar on the mysteries of Christmas music! All those great songs (well almost all!) that you hear when you are holiday shopping… were written by a Jewish songwriter. And I will sing some of the most beautiful, including those by Irving Berlin. I have some compelling Hanukkah songs too, and some thoughts about Christmas romance.
What are some of your favorite holiday tunes?
ME: I have two favorites right now! One is deeply sentimental and that is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from the holiday musical Meet Me in St. Louis. I revisited this song recently because I am doing a green screen version of it – known as a “Performance on Screen” for the Irish Repertory Theater. I was so moved by the lyrics when I heard them again in 2020… and did you know that they used to be even sadder? The original lines are: “Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.” Now, that is not merry! Judy Garland really wanted it more cheerful and it was changed to: “Faithful friends who were dear to us/ Will be near to us once more.” The difference – from “no more” and “once more” – shows the power of a single word to change everything. Loss turns to hope! I love the show and I love the bittersweet song.
My other favorite song is a brilliant new re-write parody of the famous “Chestnuts Roasting” song, aka The Christmas Song, with some very funny new lyrics by my friend and frequent collaborator, the renowned New Yorker Magazine essayist and lyricist, Adam Gopnik. Oh, while I’m mentioning him, he also seems to be writing a very funny Baby, It’s Woke Outside. That should be ready in time for my holiday show so stay tuned! I was proud to be in his new musical Our Table with the great David Shire, and he has returned the creative karma by writing some fabulous original material for Bay Street’s 2020 party.
And you actually have a special single coming out next month on January 8. What inspired the song?
ME: I was inspired to record Happiness is a Thing Called Joe because a wonderful pianist, Lara Downes, wanted to do a collaboration this summer. We chose the song because – first of all – it’s a gorgeous melody by Harold Arlen, with a jazz lullaby quality – that perfectly suits Lara’s Gershwin-esque piano style. From a message standpoint, we agreed that Yip Harburg, its lyricist, is one of the most liberal and inspiring songwriters in history – with an eye on humanity and universal themes of decency and equality. Lara Downes, who comes from a Jamaican background, recalls that the first musical she ever went to was Cabin In The Sky, which was the first all-black musical and was written by Yip Harburg. I have done many productions of his – Finian’s Rainbow, and have a deep feeling for his work. (He of course also wrote the great film The Wizard Of Oz.) We thought it was just the perfect song to celebrate this wonderful songwriter – who dedicated his life to social progress – and a heartwarming tune for this vulnerable time in all our lives. It epitomizes humility and an appreciation of the things we do have right under our noses. I think the song is about the healing power of simple happiness.
You starred in Broadway’s White Christmas. What are your go-to holiday movies and theatrical productions?
ME: I am the mom of two ballerinas (and one tennis player). With three young teen daughters, we have to work hard to agree on one movie. I think we all agree on the movie Elf, but we definitely are a family that never grows tired of The Nutcracker ballet. One of my girls was a soldier in the Lincoln Center version with the New York City Ballet. And she and her sister are now members of Manhattan Youth Ballet, headed by Balanchine dancers Deborah Wingert and NYCB’s Daniel Ulbrecht… and they just finished filming a green screen musical of their Nutcracker adaptation. This year, they played mice. Every year from October to January (when they aren’t on TikTok…) it’s all Tchaikovsky!
How about your most beloved holiday traditions?
ME: I love to simmer some mulled apple cider, and mulled wine for the grown-ups. My children like to make competing cranberry sauces and see who likes whose (using combinations of orange peel, preserves, or ginger). We also do treasure hunts – I hide plastic golden coins for some unknown reason… (hiding things is getting increasingly challenging as they get older and more clever!). We also love to make turkey, but I have always had a sister-in-law or my mother at my side. Last year, I did it all by myself and I took it out of the oven and everyone pointed out that it had been baked fanny side up. Oops! I think the best holiday tradition is making music at home. Even if you only have 4 chords on a ukelele, you’re in the show!
How do you and the family like to spend the holidays?
ME: It sort of depends on the year. If I am in a musical, we stay in the city area for the school holiday, and have done all the lovely things like The Rockettes, skating in Bryant Park and going to see the Rockefeller tree. But this year, we got tickets to the COVID-safe light show called Glow at The Botanical Gardens. We all believe in Santa, so we hope he comes. There have been some years that we have stolen a few days in Florida, but it is usually the shortest trip because my children just adore being in our living room for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. This year, we aren’t going anywhere. We have a winter rental in East Hampton/Springs and we have a fire pit, and are enjoying backgammon and chess at home with a special Harry Potter chess set.
In addition to Season for Joy, you’re performing in a Meet Me in St. Louis Holiday Special. After that, what’s next for you?
ME: On January 28th, I am really excited to do the second livestream concert of a series of three at FIAF in New York City. We were nominated by BroadwayWorld for the Cabaret Awards for Best Livestream Concert. It is a special event called Love, Desire & Mystery which is an exploration of French and American attitudes, philosophies and songs on these sensual topics. In the first concert, I sang Poulenc, Debussey, Michel Legrand, Charles Trenet and a few American musicals that show the love, and mutual fascination, between America and France.
I have several concerts booked for 2021, but I am noticing those are starting to get moved to 2022. I think the only way to live right now is to go from one project to the next, and not look too far ahead.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
ME: When the pandemic hit, I was releasing my French album, a tribute to my musical mentor who died in 2019, the multi-Oscar winning film composer Michel Legrand called Legrand Affair Deluxe Edition, and was about to go on tour. We have decided to sell the brand-new vinyls for the 2020 holidays, and I will sign them to anyone who buys one! You can find the link on my website, MelissaErrico.com. Very retro, right! But very “apropros”, as the French would say! Michel comes from an era where he would arrange, conduct and record music with the unique sound of vinyls, and music on vinyl, in his mind.
Season for Joy commences at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20.
For more information about Season for Joy, visit www.baystreet.org.