Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview with Sam Harris

Chris Isaacson Presents New York's Finest -The Leading Men of Broadway directed by Sam Harris @ the Ford Amphitheatre on September 16. Harris certainly needs no introduction. His brilliant performances on stage/TV over the years have dazzled audiences worldwide. In our chat, he talks about this exciting show and other theatrical interests.

Let's talk about New York’s Finest - The Leading Men of Broadway on September 16. As director, give us a little preview of what we can expect to see from these great singers!

Well, we titled it “New York’s Finest” for a reason. Not only are these guys immensely-freakily talented, they also happen to be immensely-freakily sexy too. So the word “finest” has multiple meanings. This is not your mother’s “Theatre Under the Stars” kind of thing. There’s a very provocative opening number sung very seductively by our only lady, Frenchie Davis, where we put a brassy Broadway song in a mashup with Alicia Keyes and Lady Gaga songs. I think it’s going to be very hot and also let the audience know what they’re in for.
Also, we’re trying to construct the sense of a real show - where you feel the performers have a chemistry and know and work together. There are duets and trios and groups songs. As far as the cast, I am a lucky director. Levi Kreis takes my breath away. Such an incredible musician. Frenchie(Davis) is so available. She’s got that great voice and she’s willing to go to unpredictable places. David Burnham is striking and powerful and then hysterically funny. Brandon Victor Dixon is like silk. And he moves me to tears. Keeping Ace Young clothed has turned into a challenge in itself… I feel I will lose this battle. I don’t want to give too much away.

Is there any chance you might surprise us by singing a song or two on stage?

I don’t think so. It’s come up from time to time and, while I’m flattered and would love to sing with these amazing talents, my role needs to be from the outside in. Believe me, they don’t need me on the stage.

SAM at the Coronet was such a great show and I believe you wrote that. Is this your first directing and creating for the stage outside of your own shows?

Thank you so much. Yes, I wrote and sort of self-directed SAM, although Oz Scott came in at one point and really helped me rethink, dig deeper and go further. In addition to creating my own shows forever and directing a few things that I’ve written, I’ve contributed material or concepts to other performer’s shows – for instance I wrote a lot of Liza’s Palace show a couple of years ago. But officially directing is definitely not my usual thing. And I really love it. I love structuring. I love writing. I love communicating and exploring new avenues of material with actors. I love twists in subtext and circumstance. I love to connect things through juxtaposition and arc. But I am not remotely technically savvy when it comes to lighting and that whole end. So I am learning a lot as I go. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by experts and this cast is so gifted that they make up for any shortcomings I may have.

I understand you are again planning on doing Jolson on stage. Talk a little about this project.

I’ve been involved with it for some time and it has gone through several incarnations, and I can honestly say this show coming to fruition is a dream come true. As most of the people who come to Broadway World know, mounting a musical can take years. It’s a ridiculously crazy and arduous task, which requires tenacity and belief beyond beyond. Richard Winkler, who is our producer, is the real deal. A man of rare commitment and integrity. And our director, Matt Lenz, is an incredible visionary and smart smart smart. And I’ve been like a dog on a bone – I believe in it so much. The show is dark and complex and yet buoyant and redemptive. It is a period piece told with an absolutely contemporary style and device. We will be announcing our plans for 2012 soon and our intention is, of course, taking it to Broadway. I continually cross everything, including my eyes, which makes it difficult to read and drive.

Do you have a favorite show - one that you would like to star in but haven't? And what about a favorite composer?

There isn’t a show, per se. I love Jason Robert Brown (who lives up the street from me) and Michael John LaChiusa (who doesn’t live anywhere near me) and anything Sondheim. I’d love to originate something by Steven Schwartz. But as far as specific roles - well, Jolson is the role I dreamed of. I’m not just doing PR. I said that even before it was written. I always thought, “I want to play Al Jolson.” He had an exuberance – an insatiable need to perform – that I relate to. That need is the devil I’ve kept in check while I’ve built a real life of balance for myself – but I know it’s there, lurking. And tapping into it is thrilling and scary. Also, Jolson was such a vital part of American entertainment history, probably more so than any other person in the 20th Century. His personal story, and the time in history he came up in, are so fascinating. You don’t have to know who he was for it to be powerful. This very human story stands on it’s own. I joke about this being one of those “be careful what you wish for” dreams. All the things I love about it – the very difficult original score, the Jolson “give-all-you-got” songbook songs, the emotional rollercoaster the story takes – the father issues – basically the haunting and breakdown of his mind and memories and ego and purpose, are quite a ride for an actor. When I do get to realize the dream of actually doing this show, (kineahora, knock on everything) I will probably say “What!? I have to do this 8 times a week?! It’s not human!” Kidding. It will be a dream and an honor. And I am ready to come back to New York. I miss it a lot. Like a person.

I thought you were wonderful in The First Wives Club at the Old Globe in San Diego and put you on my year end list as Best Featured Performance. Did you enjoy doing that? Is it still in the planning stages for a Broadway run?

I didn’t know that I was on the list. Thank you! Is there an actual award that you need to give me? A statue? A plaque? A vase? A certificate? 

Sorry. But I'll give you a great big handshake or hug, whichever you're in the mood for, when I see you.
(we both laugh)

I had a great time playing with that cast. What a solid, intelligent group of actors: Barbara Walsh, Karen Ziemba, Sheryl Lee Ralph, John Dossett, Brad Oscar, Kevyn Morrow, Sara Chase. And book by Rupert Holmes. I mean there were enough Tony noms and awards in that cast to furnish a museum! I always learn so much from working with creative people. It’s the thing I love most about this business. There is always something to acquire, see, steal, explore. As far as the show itself, I think the concept and the story are good and very commercial. It had problems that were not fixable in the situation we were in. I don’t know what the plans are for the next stage. I remain very friendly with the producers and I know they want very much for it to go forward. I hope it goes for their sake.

What about TV? What Sam Harris appearances are slated for fall?

I was just on Rocco’s Dinner Party with Liza Minnelli, Alan Cumming, Sandra Bernhardt, Kenneth Cole and Marvin Hamlisch, but I don’t think eating and gabbing count. After New York’s Finest, my fall will be spent touching up a pilot I wrote which was optioned by a prominent producer, another TV show in development, and some concert dates. Also I am putting together a new live show with a certain amazing legendary performer who happens to be one of my best friends, and we’ve been talking about creating a duets show for a long time. We’re planning on trying it out in NY for a night or two in the Fall, somewhere small and casual to see what we have. Guess who! All that and raising a child too! It’s a full life. I’ll rest when I’m dead.

with partner Danny and infant son

Bless you for all of your AIDS charity work and now what you are doing for Equal Marriage Rights. You wrote a song called “My Reclamation, ” after Prop 8 passed in California. ( v=YKVXXfw2nAI) As an openly gay and married man - with a son - how do you feel about the progress that has been made? Are you satisfied? What more needs to be done?

I don’t think any of us can be satisfied until there is no more anti-gay legislation and equal rights are the given. My son is 3 ½ years old and I watch him with his friends at preschool. There are observations, but there are no judgments. The fact that he has two daddies is just that – a fact. Just like some families have single parents or multi-racial parents, or grandparents in parental roles, or whatever. It is the adults that teach the hate and fear of “the other.” What’s that song from South Pacific?

“You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught”

And one day someone will tell our son that he is wrong and that his dads are bad people. And it will kill me because he won’t understand that kind of judgment. But I hope that, by then, we will have given him enough foundation and tools to understand what love and family and equality really are, and recognize that some people just don’t. I would put up the quality of our parenting and the love and family Danny and I create in our home against anyone’s. I could never have dreamed when I was a kid growing up in Bible Belt Oklahoma that we’d have come this far. But we have so so far to go. 

It all boils down to love, but it's such a struggle to get some people to understand that.

Yes, and the best thing anyone can do is live their life honestly, with the love they seek in others. At this time in history, when same-gender couples are finally getting legally married and having children and are open in their workplaces, we are under the microscope. Just like at the beginning of integration, when racists were sure it would be the end of society. Being an example of strength and love and patience is, well, like being a parent. Being your best person. And that goes for straight people too. Civil rights are never won solely by the oppressed minority. It is the right-minded majority that really makes change. People need to speak up and stand up. And leave the room better than you found it. It ain’t always easy. But it’s worth it. How did we go from show biz to politics? I guess it’s all the same thing. Capturing and demonstrating the challenges and foibles and triumphs of the human spirit. And of course I love a big production number too…
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New York’s Finest: The Leading Men of Broadway  will  play  one  performance  only, on Friday, September 16, at  the  John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Boulevard East, in Los Angeles, 90068. Showtime is 8:30pm, and tickets are on sale now.  Admission is $40 for reserved seating, and a $75 VIP package includes premium seating, post-performance artist meet and greet, and much  more.  Student   and   senior  discounts  are   also  available.  To  purchase  tickets, call (323) 461-3673. Tickets for reserved seating purchased prior to September 9 receive a $5 discount.

Sam and family now

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