Melissa Errico as Betty Haynes
You think, 'How am I going to marry my old life and my new life?'"
If you were a Broadway fan in the 1990s, you don’t have to be reminded of Melissa Errico’s resume: Bursting onto the scene as Eliza Doolittle in a 1993 revival of My Fair Lady, she was anointed by Times critic Ben Brantley as “divine” and “a living recruitment poster for paganism” as the title goddess in Encores! 1996 staging of One Touch of Venus. From there, her shows didn’t equal her talent, though she nabbed a Tony nomination for the short-lived Amour. Last seen on Broadway five years ago in the clunker Dracula, the Musical, Errico threw her prodigious energy into motherhood, founding the super-successful parenting community Bowery Babes in 2006 after giving birth to her first child with her tennis pro husband, Patrick McEnroe. Twin daughters followed last November, and (except for a CD of lullabies) it seemed that Errico had sidelined her performing career. So it’s a delightful surprise to see her back on Broadway lending her beautiful voice to Irving Berlin classics as Betty Haynes in White Christmas. En route to pick up her eldest daughter, Victoria, at nursery school, the multitasking mom called Broadway.com for a cheerful chat about where she’s been and how much she’s enjoying her return to the stage.
So, you’re back on Broadway, and your twins [Diana and Juliette] have just turned one! Congrats on both.
We celebrated [the girls’ birthday] last night because I had the night off. Nobody ever RSVPs to my parties, but I think about 45 people came. The florist who did my wedding 11 years ago sent an unbelievable centerpiece and two big vases of pink and purple, with a little touch of blue because I never had a boy and there’s a lot of pink in my life. I had balloons delivered, and I made two big quiches, a broccoli and cheese and a ham and cheese, before the matinee. I put too much water in the eggs, so the quiches kind of exploded, but then they collapsed so it looked okay. The party was from 5:30 to 7:30 because [the babies are] passed out asleep at 7:30.
Wow, that sounds like quite a party!
Do you know the Nunziatas? They’re adorable singers who are identical twins, and my friend Richard Jay-Alexander, the director, brought them to entertain because my kids are twins. I had printed a script to do a puppet show of “Jack and the Beanstalk” so I recruited the Nunziata twins, and we did a show for all the kids. I still had my fake eyelashes on from playing Betty, I’m doing a puppet show, and Richard Jay is looking at me like, “If anyone could see how insane your life is!” It’s nuts. This time last year, I was not well. A twins pregnancy is challenging beyond words.
You were concentrating on motherhood.
I had no plans to work again for a long, long time. You always think, “How am I going to marry my old life and my new life?” and you never think you’ll find that solution. This show really came out of the blue.
White Christmas seems like a good way to ease your way back to Broadway.
This length of run, for sure, but the challenge is that I’m the only principal actor who’s never done the show before. You have to learn a Broadway-size show, where you might have had five weeks of rehearsal, in two weeks. The costume changes and the dances—all of that had to be learned in front of the audience really. I never heard the orchestra until I had 1,500 people watching me.
You’re a pro. I bet it all came back very quickly.
Oh, it did. My husband said, “This is nothing compared to what you’ve been doing.” I gave birth to three kids, including twins. Medically, I’ve been to hell and back. It’s an old habit of mine not to find Broadway something to just do easily. I give so much respect to it, and I take it so seriously. But the truth is, I have to make it one part of my life now and not my whole, obsessive life, as I did when I was younger.
What’s it like to perform this rather sentimental holiday show?
I don’t see it that way. I actually find it incredibly subtle. I have a really challenging role. Betty is both a leading lady and a dork; she’s a smarty pants but she’s socially very insecure; she’s both sophisticated and kind of naive; she’s the older sister but she’s got the younger heart; she’s a little bit Rosalind Russell but also goofy and pure-hearted. That’s a lot to navigate in little vignettes. Yes, it’s not My Fair Lady or Camelot, where I’m talking to Jeremy Irons about politics and life and love [at the Hollywood Bowl]. It’s not as developed as that, but in my eyes it’s subtle.
Has your three-year-old daughter, Victoria, seen you onstage yet?
She’s been a little nervous, so she's coming with my brother-in-law John McEnroe’s youngest daughter, Ava, who is eight. Victoria has actually been to the theater every day, but she won’t leave my dressing room—partially because I bought a Barbie Dream House to entice her. It’s a three-story plastic monstrosity, and she’s got 25 Barbies that she brings to the theater in a suitcase. Literally, in the middle of the dress rehearsal, I was in my full costume, assembling a Barbie Dream House. And can you believe this? Barbie’s Dream House now has a laptop and a flatscreen TV.
I want to play with Victoria’s Barbie Dream House.
It’s really fun! One reason why the mothers’ group I run [Bowery Babes] is successful is because women who had kids when they’re older—I was 35 and 38—get how grateful we are. I know how fast time flies, and our group is trying to slow down time. People in the business ask, “Where have you been?” And it’s like, “Honey, I’ve been to the best planet there is! Get in bed with your husband and make a baby!”
What percentage of the Bowery Babes know that you have a history as a Tony-nominated Broadway star?
Five percent? That thought has gone through my mind only recently when they’re all doing triple-takes [about White Christmas], like, “You’re doing what?!” I’d said I was a singer, but I’ve had four years of people not really believing it. Now there are Bowery Babes parents at almost every show.
Your group could probably sell out an entire performance of White Christmas.
Well, among parents on the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho and the East Village, not everyone can afford it. They’re always in the top right hand side of the balcony going, “Wooo!” or on the very front row because they got the tickets that day. We’re not the house seat crowd, and that’s what I love about the group.
It’s great that you created such a successful community.
You know how some people find their thing? I really think that motherhood and getting a little older helped me find my group. I started in the business so young, and I was lauded too much with One Touch of Venus. There are down sides to that.
You got one of the most over-the-top Ben Brantley reviews ever for that Encores! show.
Right, and I was grateful, but how do you top that? I was so young and I didn’t have publicists and fancy people to help me. [Woody Allen’s legendary agent] Sam Cohn was my agent, but he was of a school that if you’re wonderful, [a career] just happens. The natural reaction to that kind of review in our generation was to move to L.A. and try to get a job as a policewoman on a TV show. I didn’t want to do that and Sam didn’t like L.A., so we ended up coasting along. I was extremely discouraged by him to do The Sound of Music the next year [as Maria, played by Rebecca Luker] and very encouraged by everyone to do High Society, which became one of the saddest experiences I’ve ever had. It was great in San Francisco, and then everyone was fired in New York. Paul Gemignani, the conductor, said he’d never seen a cast put through what happened to us: 45 minutes of the show was cut, the director was fired—it was mortifying. All these years, I’ve thought about how you can’t control everything.
You bowed out of Broadway in your mid-30s, prime time for a musical actress. Any regrets?
You’re right. And no, I don’t have any regrets. The up side of starting so young in this precarious business is that I wasn’t silly and foolish at 35 to think, “The next big thing is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming—I’m going to give it another five years and forget to have kids.” I’d already seen the cycle hit me in the face a few times! But the amazing thing is that when you make a new commitment like I’ve made, you get to think “Do I actually care [about acting] anymore? Do I miss it?” And the answer came up yes. I really miss it and I really love it. From my heart, I love it. I don’t want to get out there and be worried about anything. I just want to do it.
It sounds like we’ll be seeing you onstage again sooner rather than later.
From your mouth to god’s ears! There are some offers, but due to the amount of scheduling involved, I’m hesitant to talk about it. I have to make sure everything will work on the nannying side, and Patrick’s tennis tour kicks off in January. I have Mr. Mom right now; he’s amazing.
Well, it’s wonderful to have you back.
I am loving it. And I am so grateful. That’s the subtitle of this whole show for me: “Melissa’s Grateful Ride.” Yesterday I was running around backstage and I started feeling good; my body has changed shape so many times that I had to remember how to stand. I was wiggling along in my pencil skirt and my high heels and was thinking, “Gosh, I feel great.” One of the crew guys noticed and said, “Look at you!” And I said, “Yeah, Mommy’s got her groove on!”
See Melissa Errico in White Christmas at the Marquis Theatre.