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Melissa Errico to perform ‘Sondheim Sublime,’ honoring the late composer
FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Arts & Convention Center will host a concert next week featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim, the composer after whom the arts center’s theater was named.
Melissa Errico, who worked with Sondheim on several productions, will perform “Sondheim Sublime” on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Errico released an all-Sondheim album in 2018, and will be performing songs from that album, as well as telling stories from her decades’ long relationship with the composer.
Fairfield Arts & Convention Center Executive Director Lindsay Bauer told The Union that, when she learned of Sondheim’s death in November 2021 at the age of 91, she started looking for a way to honor his memory. That’s how she learned of Errico and her Sondheim-themed show.
“Melissa Errico has worked with Sondheim backstage, and is an incredibly accomplished vocal musician,” Bauer said. “She’s been in so many of these big name shows.”
According to her publicist, Errico’s history with Sondheim began when he selected her to star as Dot in “Sunday In The Park With George” at The Kennedy Center, then as Clara in “Passion” at Classic Stage Company in New York City, followed by the New York City Center Encores! production of “Do I Hear A Waltz?”
The theater’s name
Fairfield is on the short list of cities that contain a theater named after Sondheim. It is one of only three in the world, with the other two being in New York and London.
Fairfield resident Suzan Kessel was one of the founders of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, which opened its doors 15 years ago in December of 2007. Kessel said that Randy West, a musical theater producer who knew many of the big names on Broadway, got Sondheim to lend his name to the theater. When the arts center held its grand opening, a bevy of celebrities showed up for the occasion, which featured Sondheim’s music.
In fact, because the theater was named after Sondheim, many of the arts center’s early musical productions were Sondheim’s, such as “A Time Out of Rhyme,” “Happy Hour” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Kessel said that Sondheim never visited Fairfield, as far as she knows. The arts center produced shirts with red stitching that read “Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts,” and Kessel sent one of them to Sondheim.
“He wrote back with a note saying, ‘Thank you and good luck,’” Kessel said. “That was our only personal communication with him.”
Kessel said she thinks the Sondheim name helped Fairfield’s arts center gain traction in the world of musical theater.
“Some people had no clue who he was, but for those who were into musical theater, it opened some doors,” she said.
Errico said her performances have taken on a new meaning since Sondheim’s passing last year. She tries to fill them with as many stories and insights as the audience can bear.
“With Steve gone, I feel responsible for helping to keep his memory alive and letting people know that he was one of the premier artists of our time, and how much his art depended on his openness to sometimes ‘unacceptable’ emotions,” she said. “I’ve turned one of his songs, ‘Loving You,’ sung by a troubled stalker in the original show, ‘Passion,’ into an authentic love song.”
Errico said the reason she was drawn to Sondheim was because of the way he conveys the ambivalence and mixed emotions that “all of us feel about the most intimate encounters of our lives.”
“I once referred to it as the ‘Sondheim Comma,’ meaning the way that even in his song titles, he balances one idea with its opposite: ‘Marry Me, A Little,’ ‘Sorry, Grateful’ and ‘Good Thing — Going.’ Exploring those bittersweet feelings, which only reveal new depths as the years go on, is my chief and obsessive inquiry with Sondheim,” she said.
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at email@example.com