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What It Takes to Perform in a Musical and Be a Mom

What It Takes to Perform in a Musical and Be a Mom

How I juggled motherhood with a dream role in a special musical.

My kids regularly see me get ready for auditions, dressing up like a lawyer or the Queen of England, only to come home later and say I might not have gotten the job. We laugh. It’s Mommy’s life. They have learned that actors muster up their confidence and their passion, while having to accept a certain amount of powerlessness. I hope, above all, they learn from me that the process is as important as the final result.

But—drum roll, please!—sometimes an actor gets super lucky. Just as the school year was beginning, I was asked to star in an off-Broadway musical called Finian’s Rainbow. Written in 1946, the show deals head on with the America of the Jim Crow South and its racism—and features incredible singing and dancing. I was excited for the role because I knew it was a special, timely musical as well as a worthy piece of Broadway history, having been the first musical in which black and white actors shared the stage and shared dressing rooms.

However, with three daughters—a 10-year-old and twins who are 8—I had to figure out how to juggle a theater schedule and a family.

I fretted about the details of home life that I would not be able to manage while I was at work during the hours of 4-10pm. Matinee days would bring even longer hours, and every day I would need to get plenty of sleep and protect my voice. To complicate matters further, my kids were starting a new school, and I so wanted to help them with everything that transition entails. On the other hand, the show was scheduled to run merely for six weeks, and so I accepted the job, figuring two months of work was manageable.

As it turns out, blessedly, our production of Finian’s Rainbow became a hit. Every night was an incredible experience, and I felt I was a part of something important. The show was extended many times, and suddenly I was working through Thanksgiving, and then through Christmas, and then New Year’s Eve. It grew into a five-month commitment. My kids are torn. They want it to end but also feel proud that it has been going so well. They come to the theater sometimes and sit in my dressing room on weekend matinee days. We take it day by day. As I write this, I still have another three weeks to go.

Here’s how I’ve made it work: I wake up at 6:30am with the kids and my husband, and I prepare their breakfasts, after which one of us walks them to school. I then go back to bed but get up in time to take them to lunch (which their school allows) on days when I don’t have a matinee. And then it’s off to work. I don’t get to help them with their homework or put them to bed. We talk on the phone, and I FaceTime with them from my dressing room. I placed a box on the kitchen table where they leave any homework or tests they want me to see. They know that as soon as I come home, I’ll sign parent forms and read their returned homework. I’ll track missing gloves and a (still) missing blue sneaker. When they can’t sleep, I tell them to text me messages I’ll see during my breaks from the stage in Act Two. I text them selfies of myself blowing them kisses from my dressing table, and they do the same from their bedrooms.

I miss them every day, but I also know the work I am doing is important for them to take part in, even at a distance. They have adjusted amazingly well to a new school, without me home to help at night. I am proud of the juggling we have all done as a family. Being an actress in the New York theater is no different than being any other working mom—except it keeps me out at night. Going to bed late means I have to catch up on sleep with naps while doing whatever I can to connect to the children in every way possible. My family has taken on a lot of challenges so I can be a singer, and we talk about it often. I applaud them regularly for their strength, understanding, and flexibility. They also appreciate what a beautiful production I am in, and that it has a remarkably important message to give audiences. 

We also know that one of the greatest things about New York City life is live theater. It is rare to have the opportunity to star in a show all of us believe in so strongly. The show will be over soon enough, and the next challenge of being an actress mommy will present itself. Until that happens, I will be able to slow down for a moment and make up for many missed bedtime kisses. 

Though I sing at bedtime, it is not always a mother’s intimate lullaby. My hope is that my daughters will always hear two things in my song: That my voice is inspired by loving them, and that a woman’s work can be fascinating and fulfilling.

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Main image: The author and her daughters backstage in her Finian’s Rainbow dressing room.

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Author: Tony Award-nominated singer and actress Melissa Errico has three young girls and is married to ESPN commentator and former tennis pro Patrick McEnroe. They are lifelong New Yorkers. Finian’s Rainbow closed in late January. See More

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