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Hamptons Life

Jul 27, 2010 12:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Michael and Melissa Errico team up for a benefit for Pianofest at Southampton Museum

Jul 27, 2010 12:55 PM

There have been plenty of acts involving brothers and sisters, but a father and daughter on stage together is more unusual. It will be an even more special treat, then, for those attending this Saturday’s “Pianofest Makes Music History!” benefit to see Broadway star Melissa Errico perform, accompanied by her father, Michael.

“We’ll be coming off the glow of my brother getting married,” Ms. Errico said, referring to the July 17 wedding in Southampton, where the Errico family lives. “I’m here with family, so it’s been a great summer already.” She and her husband, tennis broadcaster Patrick McEnroe, have three young daughters.

It would no doubt be enough of a treat to see Ms. Errico perform at a local venue, in this case the Southampton Historical Museum. In addition to engagements at such prestigious nightspots as the Algonquin and Carlyle hotels in New York, she has starred in some of the most popular stage musicals of the last 20

years. She was just out of high school when she landed the part of Cosette in “Les Miserables” on Broadway. She somehow managed to squeeze in a degree in art history/philosophy at Yale University, then it was back to Broadway to play Eliza Doolittle in the revival of “My Fair Lady.”

“The irony was, I had many callbacks before I got the part because they were concerned with how young I was,” Ms. Errico recalled. “It’s one of the best female leads in musical theater, but at 21 I had the stupidity of youth because nothing seemed overly daunting then. It’s only now I realize what an accomplishment it was to be in ‘My Fair Lady’ on Broadway.” She played Eliza Doolittle again in a revival at the Hollywood Bowl in 2003, this time with John Lithgow as Henry Higgins and Roger Daltrey as her father.

It would seem inevitable that Ms. Errico would have a career in the arts. Her mother’s mother was an opera singer, and her mother’s sister was a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl. Her mother, Angela, is a sculptor. Her father is an orthopedic surgeon, but he has come back to his original passion: playing the piano.

“I received a degree in music while doing the pre-med stuff,” said Mr. Errico, who also graduated from Yale University. “Then I had to put it away for a long time. I was still practicing full-time, but 15 years ago I said I need a balance in my life, I have got to balance the music with the medicine. I went to the extension division of Juilliard, practiced almost every day, and just made the time. I just didn’t want to live without the music anymore.”

“He was a child prodigy,” Ms. Errico said of her father, who, like her mother, was born in Italy. “When he was 4 or 5, he would sleep under the piano after his sisters began taking lessons on it. When he was 6 he was already composing and giving his first recital. He was on his way to being a true artist. But he was also cautious about choices in his life because of his immigrant background. He was a concert pianist in his years at Yale University, and then he changed direction and became an orthopedic surgeon, the safer direction.”

Growing up, Ms. Errico and her sister and brother knew their father mostly as a doctor, not someone who had earned respect years earlier as a musician. A turning point, she said, was “when I was starring on Broadway in ‘High Society.’ A man who graduated with my father in 1961 came up to me and asked if I was related to that wonderful pianist at Yale. Next thing you know, my father and I are performing at the class of ’61’s 40th reunion at the Yale Repertory Theatre. More than sold out, you couldn’t get in. They remembered him sort of iconically as a piano player. That concert showed me a lot about who he really was.”

Speaking of her own career, Ms. Errico agreed that being in the arts was perhaps preordained, but acknowledged that “my parents didn’t know much about show business. My father was devoted to classical music. Much of the time my mother worked alone in a studio. Theater was more of a New York City kid kind of thing. In my Italian family that treasured opera and ballet, performers like Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand were actually held in low regard. Broadway was built on vaudeville and Catskills music and songs. When I was really getting into theater in sixth grade, my parents had to go out and buy a book titled ‘How to Get Your Child Into Show Business’ because they had no idea what to do. I wanted to be funny and tap dance and sing like Julie Andrews, and what were they going to do with me?”

The book must have been quite useful, because Ms. Errico not only got into show business but has created an impressive resume. Her stage work includes lead roles in “High Society,” “Dracula, the Musical,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” and “Sunday In the Park With George.” The latter musical was written by Stephen Sondheim, who is a particular favorite of her father. “That’s my favorite show of hers,” he said.

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