Woman Warrior Melissa Errico
FROM THE BOWERY TO BILLIONS, MUSICALS TO MOTHERHOOD, IT SEEMS THERE’S NOTHING MELISSA ERRICO CAN”T DO!
By Pamela Jacobs
When I first started talking to Melissa Errico about her career, her life, and the work she’s been doing lately, she shared a story with me about a show she did at 54 Below in April 2014. The singer/actress—best known for Broadway ballads and soulful songs that demonstrate her spectacular vocals—came out onstage in sequined shorts and stilettos, opening the show with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” It was a playful departure from the performer that most of her fans have come to know and love, but it was clear to me, not long into the interview, that Errico is, indeed, every woman.
Married to tennis legend Patrick McEnroe, who she first met at the age of five, with twin seven-year-old daughters and a nine-year-old daughter (“I went from no kids to three kids in two years,” she points out), Errico somehow manages to juggle being a wife, mother of three, singer, actress, recording artist, and community leader flawlessly. It’s tempting to resent these superpowers, but she’s also incredibly sweet and funny.
Throughout her career, Errico has been the recipient of rave reviews and accolades from all over the show-biz spectrum. The NY Times seems to be madly in love with her: On a spring 2012 performance at 54 Below, they called her rendition of “Moonfall” “vocally spectacular.” Another Times review, this one on Candida, noted her “formidable beauty,” along with her “naturally Victorian gorgeousness.”
She’s been described, repeatedly, as having a “voice of enchantment.” On her latest CD release, “What About Today,” which was recorded live at 54 Below and was subsequently released as the first ever DVD from 54 Below, Alec Baldwin said “her voice will melt you” and entertainment writer Brian Scott Lipton called her “an artiste extraordinaire.”
She’s a bit of every female performer and every New York City mother all in one, with enough humility and humor to make her approachable and so very likeable. Case in point: the aforementioned CD opens with banter from Errico telling the audience that “the Easter Bunny forgot to come on Sunday, and the Tooth Fairy has been delayed a few times. There’s so many kids and so many teeth.” Then she launches into a flawless performance of “What About Today,” and just like that, she’s perfect again.
Errico’s career began a bit fatefully, when, at the age of 18, she was auditioning for a role in the off-Broadway show George M! The director of The First National Company’s Les Miserables spotted her practicing her tap dancing in the hallway and noticed her talent immediately, along with what Errico describes as a “big mane of curls.” He asked her to audition for the role of Cosette and she was cast on the spot. She dropped out of Yale to tour for over a year with the production, then returned to Yale and graduated in three years.
Errico was then accepted into the Yale Graduate School of Drama, but she dropped out to make her Broadway debut—playing Princess Kitty Scherbatssky in Anna Karenina—and then went on to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway.
Since then, it’s been a string of Broadway shows and leading roles, as well as numerous nominations and awards, including six Drama Desk nominations, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, and a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Amour.
When asked about her many classic musical theater roles, Errico says “I’m thrilled to have done the classic musicals. That’s how I started, with a real identification with the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and shows like Carousel, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music.”
It was Rodgers and Hart, though, that really got her music heart aflutter and “put [her] over the edge.” On her twelfth birthday, she went to see On Your Toes, and “loved it so sincerely,” that she was inspired to pursue her musical theater dreams at any cost. This moment—coupled with an upbringing in which her doctor
father played the piano at home and brought her up listening to Bill Evans, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, and Bing Crosby, among others—created a love of jazz and the American songbook that wove itself into her Broadway experience and led to her next role: performing artist extraordinaire.
ON TO THE BLUES
Shortly after playing the role of Tracy Lord on Broadway in High Society—a role, given her musical background and passions, she was born to play—Errico was signed to Blue Note Records and released her debut album, “Blue Like That,” which was produced by Arif Marin, the legendary producer who won 11 Grammy’s and worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Bette Midler, Roberta Flack, and Norah Jones.
From there, the albums and collaborations flowed; she released “Legrand Affair: The Songs of Michel Legrand,” with multiple-Academy-Award-winner Legrand, produced by Phil Ramone. Legrand also wrote the music for Amour—his only Broadway show—which starred Errico and was the role for which she received the Tony nomination.
In fact, Errico seems to have collaborated with every New York artist who falls under the genius category. She starred in Table, a musical written by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and Academy Award-winner David Shire (Gopnik, Errico points out, has dinner every week with Woody Allen), and then went on to again work closely with Gopnik because she “couldn’t help but be so taken with him.” Together, they wrote Errico’s one-woman autobiographical cabaret show, Sing the Silence, about the role of silence in women’s lives, and about “women being heard.” They debuted the show at Joe’s Pub in November 2015. Now, the two are writing a screenplay together.
“Through him,” Errico says, “I’ve found a mentor in another avenue—writing is my secret passion.” Is there nothing this woman can’t do?
A NEW YORKER WITH BILLIONS
The stage hasn’t been the only place Errico has felt right at home. She’s appeared on screen dozens of times in a wide range of roles—from playing Norm Macdonald’s girlfriend in the comedian’s 2001 sitcom to notable roles in TV’s Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, and The Knick.
Now, audiences are eagerly awaiting her next silver screen project, the role of June in Showtime’s Billions, starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. The show premieres January 17, and is the provocative story of New York’s financial world.
“I was so honored to be a part of it,” Errico says, describing her role: “My character’s husband was the head of a bank with Damian Lewis’ character, who was a shady guy. My husband was about to get him fired…” when the 9/11 attacks occurred and things got complicated. “I am the wife who knows what a schmuck he [Lewis’ character] is, the widow with a secret.”
Errico laughs, “Widows are my thing lately. Steven Soderbergh gave me my role as the widow of the Chief of Surgery in The Knick, another moody widow with a secret. Widows in drama are interesting. They have history, they’re now sexually free, and they have information—which is power.”
When I ask her about her involvement in the shows, and approaching them as a New Yorker, she says, “Both shows are the ultimate New York shows. The Knick is the history of Manhattan—the tension, the competition, the collaboration. And in Billions, you’re looking at one of the most difficult milestones in New York history—the tragedy of 9/11. Who survived, and how do you survive?”
Then she points out: “Manhattan always brings up the question of survival. Whether it’s Woody Allen’s humorous take on survival—how do you survive your own plans, your ordeals, your neuroses—or other ways of looking at the question.”
As a tried-and-true, consummate New Yorker who is passionate about the city, Errico says, “Manhattan can be terrifying and overwhelming, but you find ways to enjoy your life here and enjoy its strengths. You have a lot of simple and beautiful places and moments here, tender moments, and ‘only in New York’ moments. You can find little miracles, little synchronicities in Manhattan all the time. New York makes so much possible, so many small miracles every day.”
And perhaps it’s in finding those miracles, big and small, that makes Errico able to perfectly juggle being every woman. It’s also through looking at the future with excitement and optimism. She names dream characters and roles she’d like to play in the future—Mama Rose in Gyspy, Desiree in A Little Night Music—and says, “The wonderful thing about this career is you can keep dreaming; some dreams will come together, some won’t, but you keep going, take chances, stretch outside your comfort zone, and always try something new, and that’s exciting.”
MELISSA’S DOWNTOWN: THE GREATEST HITS
Just mention the Bowery, and Melissa gets excited: “It’s just such a vital and exciting area,” she says. “It’s got so much going on, so many wonderful hotels, restaurants, and shops.” And she should know, having lived in the neighborhood for almost two decades. “There are changes in the Bowery, which is complicated,” she notes, “but that’s not only in this area, that’s New York in general. But I still think this neighborhood is more unique than anywhere else.”
Melissa clearly has some favorites. She mentions Lafayette (380 Lafayette Street) several times, saying that “My kids and I were eating there recently, and we didn’t even know food could taste like that.” She goes on to say she loves everything Lafayette chef Andrew Carmellini is doing, and points out that he’s now the chef at The Public Theater (a regular venue for Errico’s performances, and the location for our photo shoot).
She also names Il Buco Alimentari (53 Great Jones Street) as a favorite—and the spot where she threw the party after a recent Public Theater show—and says that The Smile, a cozy neighborhood café (26 Bond Street), is the perfect place to go with girlfriends. “It’s all fresh, healthy, and delicious,” she says, “and is a great place to meet up and share secrets. It feels like a cuddle.”
“There are so many great hotels in the neighborhood,” she states, including the Bowery Hotel and the Crosby Street Hotel on her list. The Crosby Street Hotel, according to Errico, “is so stylish, is a great place to bring friends from out of town, and has, in my opinion, the best High Tea downtown.”
The Blue Note, she says, is another neighborhood must. “You have to have a date night at the Blue Note and catch Chris Botti. He has an annual residence there and it’s so special.” And of course, the Public Theater/Joe’s Pub is a favorite, but that pretty much goes without saying.
Two words: Jill Platner (113 Crosby Street). When asked to expand, she describes Jill Platner’s handmade jewelry as “wearable sculptures” and goes on to say that her anniversary is at the end of December and that every year, right beforehand, it’s an ’I hope you go to Jill Platner’ moment.”
Culture & History
“We love St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mott Street,” Errico says. “It was recently renovated, and it’s just such an unbelievable piece of history. It’s such a New York gem.”
BROADWAY, BILLIONS, AND THE BOWERY
Melissa Errico, husband Patrick McEnroe, and their three daughters (who they call fairies) are as downtown New York City as it gets. They moved into a converted chocolate factory in NoLita (before it was called NoLita) in the early days of their marriage, and would run into David Bowie in the elevator. Iman, also a neighbor, would give Errico advice. They recently moved into another apartment in the neighborhood, along with their beloved Yorkie, Pepper.
The Errico/McEnroe clan is all about being a part of the neighborhood, interwoven with the community, not as celebrities, but as friends and neighbors.
In fact, Errico started Bowery Babes, a non-profit dedicated to providing resources and support for women throughout the stages of motherhood. It recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and is a thriving program involving thousands of women. However, it all began humbly and sweetly, when Errico was pregnant with her first child. While taking a prenatal yoga class at Lital Yoga (302 Bowery Street), she discovered that 12 women in the class were all due with their first child on the same week. They came from every culture, religion, profession, and background, but all shared this one significant trait.
In true Errico nature—a collaborator, connector, and friend—she invited them to lunch, which turned into an email list, a yahoo group, a 75-member group within a month, and a full-blown non-profit in 2009.
“I started Bowery Babes,“ Errico says, “not because I wanted to take over the neighborhood, but because I was fascinated by this diverse group of women and how we’d met, and I wanted to connect everyone. I think people are always looking for an excuse to connect and make new friends. In NY, we’re all so private, yet so many of us have so much in common.”
Bowery Babes not only connects downtown mothers of all backgrounds with each other, but provides resources, information, and opportunities to any women in the community who want to be involved. Errico is passionate about it—after all, her role as a mother is clearly her most important one—and it’s evident that countless Bowery moms have benefited from this passion.
For more information: Bowerybabes.com , Billions, and the Bowery Melissa Errico, husband Patrick McEnroe, and their three daughters (who they call fairies) are as downtown New York City as it gets. They moved into a converted chocolate factory in NoLita (before it was called NoLita) in the early days of their marriage, and would run into David Bowie in the elevator. Iman, also a neighbor, would give Errico advice. They recently moved into another apartment in the neighborhood, along with their beloved Yorkie, Pepper. The Errico/McEnroe clan is all about being a part of the neighborhood, interwoven with the community, not as celebrities, but as friends and neighbors. In fact, Errico started Bowery Babes, a non-profit dedicated to providing resources and support for women throughout the stages of motherhood. It recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and is a thriving program involving thousands of women. However, it all began humbly and sweetly, when Errico was pregnant with her first child. While taking a prenatal yoga class at Lital Yoga (302 Bowery Street), she discovered that 12 women in the class were all due with their first child on the same week. They came from every culture, religion, profession, and background, but all shared this one significant trait. In true Errico nature—a collaborator, connector, and friend—she invited them to lunch, which turned into an email list, a yahoo group, a 75-member group within a month, and a full-blown non-profit in 2009. “I started Bowery Babes,“ Errico says, “not because I wanted to take over the neighborhood, but because I was fascinated by this diverse group of women and how we’d met, and I wanted to connect everyone. I think people are always looking for an excuse to connect and make new friends. In NY, we’re all so private, yet so many of us have so much in common.” Bowery Babes not only connects downtown mothers of all backgrounds with each other, but provides resources, information, and opportunities to any women in the community who want to be involved. Errico is passionate about it—after all, her role as a mother is clearly her most important one—and it’s evident that countless Bowery moms have benefited from this passion. For more information: Bowerybabes.com
MELISSA’S OTHER HALF: TENNIS LEGEND PATRICK McENROE
Melissa Errico and Patrick McEnroe are each two halves of one very successful, very impressive couple. Raised in Manhasset with older brother John, McEnroe began playing tennis at a young age, and went on to win the French Junior doubles, help his Stanford University team win the NCAA team championship twice, and subsequently join the professional tour.
He won the ’89 French Open Men’s Doubles, in 2000 was named the 38th Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team, and in 2004 served as captain of the U.S. men’s tennis team at the Summer Olympics.
Along the way, he married Melissa Errico (in 1998) and became a father of three. And if that’s not enough, he hosted a radio show (“The Patrick McEnroe Show”), published a book in 2010 (Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches, Hachette Books), and continues to serve as a tennis commentator for ESPN.
McEnroe was on hand while we interviewed and photographed Melissa; naturally, we seized the opportunity to chat with him.
Pamela Jacobs: You’ve done a lot of TV for years; have you and Melissa ever thought about working on something together? And do you give each other advice on performing?
Patrick McEnroe: Well I can’t sing or dance, but I have told Melissa that we should do our own TV show—so the short answer is ‘yes.’ We do different things but there are, of course, some similarities. That is part of the strength of our relationship. I know the ups and downs of being a player and losing and having to deal with that; she knows the ups and downs of her world. There are similarities in preparation and focus, the dedication it takes to walk out on the stage every night, or what I did as a player and an announcer.
When we first met [again], I was at the tail end of my playing career and was going through a transition, and Melissa was really helpful in getting the next stage of my career going. And when she did High Society on Broadway, I was there 47 nights in a row supporting her. We’ve always supported each other and worked together in that way, and we feed off of each other, and have grown together.
PJ: With such busy careers, do you have a system for handling it all so well while being parents of three? Is there a secret?
PM: I call Melissa the master organizer. She is the brains behind the operation, and is an unbelievable organizer and emailer. Back when I was working for the USTA, I didn’t have as much time; now I am in a transitional time, so I am around a lot more. I’m enjoying my life right now because I can take my older daughter to tennis and be even more involved with them.
It is not always easy. In January I leave to go Australia for 17 days, but over the years we have learned how to adjust and balance and work together.
PJ: And I can tell you’re both very involved as parents.
PM: Yes, we are always involved with our girls. Sometimes it’s hard for us to go out and get dinner for an hour, just the two of us, but they’re in school now and can do more things for themselves. So now is a good time for Melissa to be able to focus on her career.
PJ: Are you very conscious of not putting pressure on your kids and letting them find their own way?
PM: Absolutely. Especially when it comes to tennis. I am very sensitive with Victoria, who is really into tennis. I will support her as much as I can, but I am sensitive to that side of it. When I was about ten years old, my dad got upset with me one day when I was acting up on the court. He said, ‘I don’t care if you win or lose—I care what your attitude is. If you quit tennis tomorrow, it makes no difference. I am your dad and I love you.’ I remember that and I take that to heart all the time.
PJ: Melissa is so connected to the neighborhood through Bowery Babes; do you have a real sense of connection to the neighborhood and community as well?
PM: Does playing Santa every year at the Bowery Babes party and being a chicken at the Halloween party count? It’s been a real pleasure to see it evolve over the years. Melissa has spearheaded the whole thing and I’ve been along for the ride, and it’s amazing to see the effect Melissa has had on so many people. Of course we love where we live, but even more than that is the effect the organization has had on people. I can’t tell you how many times I was at a Bowery Babes party and other fathers pulled me aside and said ‘you have no idea how this has positively impacted my wife.’ Bowery Babes is a real community; it evolved because of Melissa’s passion for it—to see that it’s still going and the impact it’s had on the neighborhood is great.
Photography (All Pages): Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images
Hair: Marco Maranghello/John Barrett Salon at bergdorf Goodman
Makeup: Oscar Caballero, Oscar-Caballero.com
Photo Editing: Ralf Nau/Acme Digital Productions
Location: Joe’s Pub/The Public Theater
Sponsor: Gannon Forrester/ TOWN Residential – (917) 623-0787 –[email protected]