Three Long Islanders got together onstage recently at a charity benefit in Manhattan, riffing about the Long Island Expressway — “Wicked” star Idina Menzel (Exit 45), Rosie O’Donnell (Exit “fifty-fowah”) and Tony Award nominee Melissa Errico (Exit 33).
“We did a whole shtick on our exits,” Errico recalls. “I said, ‘Well, I’m exit 33, or 36, depending on which way you go.’ Rosie says, ’Hmm, 33 . . . 36 . . . sounds like my waistline.’ ”
Errico may not have the name recognition of O’Donnell, or a pop-chart-soaring hit song like Menzel’s “Let It Go” from the Disney film “Frozen,” but the Manhasset native can belt out a power ballad with the best of them, and she’s got 30 years in the business as a steadily working actress to prove it.
This summer she has back-to-back gigs, starring opposite Tony nominee Stephen Bogardus in the Off-Broadway revival of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” which opens at the Irish Repertory Theatre on June 28 -- then appearing the next night in a free solo concert at Heckscher Park, part of the Huntington Summer Arts Festival.
“I always say yes when it’s Long Island,” she says of her packed schedule. “I’m proud of where I’m from.”
FROM THE LIVING ROOM TO 'LES MIZ'
If there’s a poster child for arts education on the island, Errico may be it. Encouraged by her parents — her mom was a teacher in Harlem and a sculptor, her dad is an orthopedic surgeon who still maintains a practice in Manhasset — Errico studied dance as a child at the Port Washington School of Ballet and the American Dance Machine (now the American Theater Dance Workshop of New Hyde Park). Her father taught her “to get up in the living room and sing,” and that early confidence paid off. At 18, Errico nabbed her first professional job, playing Cosette in a touring company of “Les Misérables.” Then a Yale student, she took time off and later returned to finish her degree.
Errico made her Broadway debut in 1992 in a musicalized “Anna Karenina," but her breakout role came a year later as Eliza Doolittle opposite Richard Chamberlain in a Broadway revival of “My Fair Lady.”
Even now, on a warm June day, relaxing in the balcony at the Irish Rep after a rehearsal, she can put down her “Clear Day” script and launch into an Eliza monologue from 25 years ago, complete with Cockney dialect. “Ay’ve come to ‘ave lessons, ay ‘ave, and to pay for them, too, make no mistyke,” she rattles off, recalling how her take on Eliza was “spunky,” demanding elocution lessons in an assertive manner that would fit right in to today’s #TimesUp movement.
Not that she’s all for updating the classics -- a topic of heated debate among theatergoers this season.
“I don’t believe all musicals have to be reinvented in this modern way,” she says. “I don’t think that allows for some of the romance in life.” Then she laughs. “I may be the last romantic left.”
Errico's own romance -- with former tennis pro and ESPN broadcaster Patrick McEnroe, also from Manhasset -- seems almost plucked from a storybook. The two met when Errico was in prekindergarten and McEnroe was friends with her older brother. They attended Buckley Country Day School together in Roslyn. Then Errico switched to Friends Academy in Locust Valley, and she and McEnroe, the youngest brother of John McEnroe, didn’t meet again till they were in their 20s. Now married 19 years, the couple lives in Bronxville with their three daughters.
That kind of Kismet-like romance also plays out in “Clear Day,” the 1965 musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane. Errico plays quirky Daisy Gamble, a role made famous by Barbra Streisand in the 1970 film version, who agrees to be hypnotized by a therapist to kick her voracious smoking habit. But he’s the one who becomes hooked — romantically and professionally -- when, under hypnosis, she recalls a past life as a seductive British aristocrat.
“I’m not much into the occult,” Errico admits. But she’s intrigued by the way tales seem to repeat themselves through generations. Like in her own family.
Performing is in her blood, she explains, dating back to her maternal grandmother, an Italian immigrant and seamstress who trained as a lyric soprano, and her grandmother’s sister, discovered as a hat check girl at Childs’ Restaurant and transformed into “a ravishing Ziegfeld girl,” Errico recalls fondly.
Alas, her grandmother’s dreams died when she married a man who forbade her to sing in public. Show biz, he opined, was no place for a moral, upstanding woman -- an argument only bolstered by Errico's Great Aunt Rose of the Ziegfeld Follies, who wound up with five husbands and no children.
Errico’s father, who has studied as a concert pianist, sidelined his love of music in favor of a more stable career as a doctor.
“I think I am a piece of that history,” she says. “And this musical is about past lives and connectivity between souls -- what might’ve lived before you and inside you.”
It’s perhaps that family history that drives her. Besides stage and concert work, she’s appeared in film and TV series, including “The Good Wife” and “Billions.”
“Part of the reason I keep working is to show my girls I didn’t drop it . . . and you don’t have to,” she says. “As a mother, I’d love to be home every second. But then again, I’m in this tribe [of performers] and I don’t want to leave.”
'On a Clear Day You Can See Forever'
WHEN | WHERE Opens June 28 through Aug. 12, Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.
INFO $50 to $70; 212-727-2737, irishrep.org
Melissa Errico in concert
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. June 29, Heckscher Park, 2 Prime Ave. at Rte 25A, Huntington
INFO Free; huntingtonarts.org
ARTS VS. ATHLETICS
Shortly before last fall’s benefit gala for the Long Island Arts Alliance, which honored Melissa Errico and her husband, Patrick McEnroe, as leading L.I. influencers, the couple revealed a friendly rivalry.
“I think that sports are awesome but . . . um . . . arts are better,” Errico joked, in a promotional YouTube video.
“Don’t say but — there’s no but,” McEnroe replied, smiling. “Say ‘sports are awesome and the arts are great, too.’ ”
Fair enough, though when it comes to their daughters, the arts seem to be winning out two to one.
Twins Diana and Juliette, 9, take after their mom, studying dance and playing the guitar and ukulele together. Eldest girl Victoria, 12, has followed in dad’s impressive footsteps, currently a tennis phenom in her own right. And with that comes pressure.
“She’s completely aware that aspiring means dealing with failures and setbacks,” Errico says. “You miss a ball constantly, and you must always move on to the next ball. The game is so full of life philosophy.”
Luckily, Errico notes, Victoria understands the importance of having goals and flexibility.
“I could’ve benefited from that when I was her age,” Errico says. — Joseph V. Amodio