The show must go on, and so did Melissa Errico in 54below. True, it was a day later than expected, but, considering what New York had just been through, and considering that Errico herself had just moved, along with husband and three children, Uptown to crash with relatives, she showed herself to be a true trooper.
So there she was, on Halloween night, decked out in a black mini-dress. If she didn’t let Hurricane Sandy slow her down, she certainly wasn’t going to be done in by some wayward sequins that kept getting stuck in her fishnet hose.
The hardy group that ventured out in the midst of traffic chaos and an uncertain public transportation system were rewarded with one of the most enjoyable nights of cabaret I’ve experienced in a long time, if ever.
Although she thrilled me in the revival of "Finian’s Rainbow" a few years ago, and I vaguely knew that she had been chosen at a relatively early age for one of the plummiest roles in theater, that of Eliza Doolittle, which she played opposite Richard Chamberlain in a Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady," I wasn’t aware of the depth or intelligence of her repertoire until now.
Errico has a voice perfectly suited to the intimate confines of 54below, a jewel box of a cabaret underneath Studio 54. In a witty pair of bookends, Errico invoked the Ghost of Studio 54 Past when she opened with a snippet of Alicia Bridges’ disco classic "I Love the Nightlife." She ended with a brief encore of a Donna Summer song, and if you can’t which one, you need to brush up on your Disco 101.
In between, she made a reference to the show that was playing 30 feet above her with "Moonfall," from "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." She said she had chosen the song not knowing it would be in previews directly above her but noted that she might be singing it simultaneously.
It was only one of several off-the-cuff and very winning remarks that accentuated her patter. During the introduction to "It’s an Art," a paean to waitresses from the musical "Working," she described the original work, compiled from Studs Terkel’s interviews with people about their jobs, among them tennis players, to which she gave a nod to her husband, Patrick McEnroe.
If these songs aren’t familiar to you, that was one of the major charms of the evening. Errico navigated the shoals of the overly familiar, comfy, tried and true on the one hand, and the overly obscure (which usually are so for good reason). Her song selection showed excellent "editing," of the kind more chanteuses could do with.
She did give a shout-out to the show’s director, who, she said, was on tour with a certain singer, a ... Barbra Streisand. "Yes," she said, "I share the same director with Barbra Streisand. And he takes my calls!"
It’s that kind of "Look, Ma, I’m in a show!," the kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz wonderment that makes Errico so gosh-darn fun. That, along with her great interpretations of songs from shows ranging from "Applause" to "Dracula."
The latter, incidentally, is one of many on Errico’s resume. She gave a hilarious build-up to the song, describing all the deliciously ridiculous action. But then, when she sat down and crooned "The Mist/The Heart Is Slow to Learn," the laughter stopped. Who knew that the much-maligned Frank Wildhorn wrote such beautiful, haunting melodies? I didn’t.
Discoveries like that were among the evening’s highest pleasures. There were a very, very few down moments. Her third song by Michael Legrand, the French composer with whom Errico has had a longtime, close working relationship, didn’t hit me. And, oddly enough, considering that she began her working career in the first national tour of "Les Mis," I found her "I Dreamed a Dream" a little too lilting. As Susan Boyle definitively showed us, this song needs a belter to put it over.
But even in those songs, no one -- certainly not me -- could accuse Errico of not giving it the most professional rendition possible. This is a voice married to a dramatic talent married to an absolutely gorgeous woman (42 and three children, hello!!).
As often happens, the best came last. Errico showed her torchy side with a fierce rendition of "What Did I Have" from "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." Although she may not have the whiskey-and-cigarettes growl of the blues icons, she still can deliver a heartfelt commentary of a woman scorned.
It all adds up to a perfect night of cabaret in a perfect space. If you can train, cab or swim into West Midtown, try to catch this one.
Melisso Errico will be performing 8:30 p.m. shows at 54below, 254 W. 54th Street, between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, through Saturday, Nov. 3 only. Visit www.54Below.com or call 866-468-7619 for tickets.
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).