Melissa Errico: Sondheim in the City

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Melissa Errico

Sondheim in the City

(Concord Theatricals Recordings)

February 13, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

This is not an album of show tunes. Melissa Errico begins her own liner notes by recounting a walk she took through Stephen Sondheim’s empty home, followed by memories of the time they spent together. “I was born in New York City. I have lived my whole life in what amounts to 20 square blocks,” Sondheim said. The CD reflects both his and Errico’s New York. Eschewing Broadway arrangements, Errico and music director Tedd Firth chose jazz as a fresh way to present this material with flash eliminated, bounce minimized, volume restrained, and melodies embroidered.

Errico’s warmth and maturity are pervasive. Her lyric interpretation of the lyrics comes from experience. Songs that have quite often arrived upset are here tempered with perspective. Expectations are fewer, appreciation greater. Errico doesn’t sound insensitive, she sounds fortified. There’s even a touch of sophisticated ennui.

“Dawn” (from the unproduced film Singing Out Loud) arrives on effortless long notes with vibrato tails. Bruce Harris’ evocative, muted trumpet adds a patina of noir. This one’s in the present. A medley of “Opening Doors” (Merrily We Roll Along) and “What More Do I Need?” (Saturday Night) resonates with recollection. It opens with Firth’s tender piano, then swings as if to say “that was then, this is now.” Her stop/start phrasing almost giggles.

“Take Me to the World” (Evening Primrose) wafts in on Matt Munisteri’s deft guitar and Lewis Nash’s supple percussion. Firth’s piano adds dappled shadows. I don’t hear longing; it’s as if the dream is so frequent that the singer is becalmed. She no longer believes. “Can That Boy Foxtrot” (cut from Follies) is here, for possibly the first time, a foxtrot! Instead of unbridled heat, we hear the admiration expressed by a woman who’s been around the block. Imagine Vera Simpson in Pal Joey singing it about Joey. (Errico could play that role.)

“Anyone Can Whistle” (Anyone Can Whistle) is as unfussy and limpid as its aspiration. Firth’s gorgeous piano settles tremulously like dew; Errico’s vocal floats. “Good Thing Going” (Merrily We Roll Along) is a slow stroll. Her phrasing makes it seem as though she’s conjuring up specific moments. She’s melancholy, earnest, resigned. The s trings breathe.

“Uptown, Downtown” (cut from Follies) is sophisticated, almost churlish. The brass punctuates. Scott Wendholt’s cool trumpet might just as well be speaking. Errico could be performing as one of Truman Capote’s Swans. “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen” (cut from Follies) features the same urbanity. Octave changes feel like pricking thorns. The song is rueful. “Being Alive” (Company) does not, as is common, painfully swell to the rafters. It’s a recognition of a life with perhaps a touch of advice. Melissa Errico knows who she is now, and it shows.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.