Maybe it’s the fact that Napoleon and I share a birthday. Or maybe it’s because I fell in love with Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac when I read it in school (so much fun compared to other plays we had to read.) And, then of course, there are the torch songs of Edith Piaf. Who would not love French culture? So, when I saw Broadway favorite Melissa Errico was teaming up with her friend and essayist/lyricist Adam Gopnik (Our Table) for a series of concerts in conjunction with New York based French Institute Alliance Francaises (https://fiaf.org/), how could I resist? I needed to watch and write a piece for “Un-Block The Music”.
Before the pandemic, Melissa had participated in a film festival with FIAF. When they were ready to “re-open” their theater, she was approached about putting together a social distance/live stream concert. She immediately accepted and suggested “Love, Sex And Death” as the subjects of a three part series and asked Adam if he would join her. They ultimately retitled the series ” Love, Desire and Mystery”.
“Un-Block The Music” missed the initial broadcast of Part I “Love” which premiered in the Fall. However, you can still stream it. Part II, Desire, is also available now (https://fiaf.org/event/2020-10-errico-gopnik/). The show explores the French art of seduction and its American responses. In particular, it dives into the ways sex has become entangled in other matters of pleasure and life. The first half of the show consists of songs from Our Table and The Broadway adaptation of The Baker’s Wife. The second half of the show includes French Arts songs as well as Broadway selections from shows such as Funny Face and Coco. Playing the piano for the concerts is Tedd Firth, a New York City–based musical director, pianist, and arranger.
“Un-Block The Music” had the pleasure of connecting with Melissa last summer for a two part story. While I never met Adam, I am, of course, familiar with Our Table. Anyway, here’s a little history about Melissa and Adam’s connection. “Melissa and I met five years ago at a three-week workshop for the musical Our Table, which David Shire and I had written, and in which she was cast as the female lead. Within one minute of watching her, I knew that she was the perfect performer for everything I’d written. Within five minutes, I knew that she was the perfect performer for everything I’d ever write. This turned out to be true, and I have been writing for her — and with her — ever since,” Adam said.
During that workshop, Adam and Melissa quickly discovered that they shared many of the same passions, and that one of them was France. Adam said, “I had lived there with my family for many years as The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent. She had worked there for and with her musical mentor, Michel Legrand. We quickly discovered that my vocabulary was larger, and her pronunciation much better. That’s why I write and she speaks. (And sings, of course.)”
Adam continued, “Her combination of analytic intelligence and expressive intensity may be unique in the American musical theater. She can coolly break down every aspect of a song’s meaning over weeks of work, then sing it on the night as if she had never heard it before, and it was coming directly from her heart. We work so well because I am also a head and heart person, though of a more prosaic turn. And I don’t look good in a gown.”
This duo’s pairing is unmistakably lovely. And, their love for France, immeasurable. A big side note!!!! Adam won France’s highest order of merit, Legion d’honneur shortly after the series was announced. “So it suddenly had not only a raison d’etre but an elan vital. All three of us –Tedd Firth included –were tickled pink, or red white and blue,” Adam said.
Now a footnote about “Un-Block The Music!” While I was putting this story together,” I received the results back of my Ancestry DNA test!!! While I am predominantly Italian, I found a little bit of Spanish and YES…French in my blood. Not going to lie. That was thrilling for me!
P.S. Part III of the concert series will air Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7pm ET. “Un-Block The Music” suggests you watch all three parts. You will not be disappointed!
In the meantime, check out my previous stories about Melissa: