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…
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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

Interview with Dee Wallace

Actress Dee Wallace, best known as the mother of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore in Steven Spielberg's E.T., is not only an award-winning actress but renowned acting coach and healer. The healing part of her career came out of the needs of her own personal turmoil. She has written three books, the latest called Bright Light. In our chat, she talks about the roots of her healing process and its components, Bright Light and her best loved work onscreen.

When I read that you were a healer, it surprised me. Forgive me, but I have not kept up with all the details of your busy life. Tell me how it all began. Was it a religious thing for you?

No.It was a desperation thing for me. In a nutshell, I was raised in a very poor family. My dad was an alcoholic all my life. He ended up committing suicide. Before he had even turned 55, I lost my husband of 18 years, Christopher Stone. (1995) He's the father of my daughter. When that happened I just dropped to my knees and in despair said, "I don't want to be this way anymore. I don't want to be a victim. I don't want to be angry.I want my life back." My dad had always called me bright light. And I always was, but when shit happens to us, we turn our light down. We lose ourselves. I was just sick of losing myself and not being who I was anymore. I said I want a way we can heal ourselves, and I swear to God, the next day, information started pouring in. I was raised a methodist in Kansas, so we went to church, but seriously until this happened, I never got what Ask and you shall receive meant.  I want to do this, I want to know it, I'm gonna move, I'm not going to misuse energy anymore...that happens, and you get guidance from yourself, from others, from the world, I mean, it's weird to me. If you were to ask me twenty years ago, are you ever going to be anything but an actress?...I would have said, "What? Are you nuts? Like this doesn't consume enough of my life?" At the time, I also had one of the largest acting studios in town. All of my students embraced the creation process. They wanted it. I'm sure during hard times, I had a full studio when a lot of other people couldn't keep going ...  because of this work. When you hear the truth, you want it. Anyway, I started doing it within the studio, and everybody's life and career were changing so exponentially, they went from "Can you do one for my girlfriend? Can you do one for my wife?" And it started to grow from there. Now it's going out all over the world every day, and I'm finishing my fourth book on it.

When you say you're asked to do one, will you describe specifically what the process of doing it entails?

What my specialty I'm able to extrapolate from someone's energy by listening to their words and the vibrations that they say them with. Putting all the pieces together...I had one woman say "I've been in therapy for ten years, and I've gotten further with you in one hour." But the people who come to work with me are the people that are ready to take responsibility for their own lives. It's not, "Can you do some mumbo jumbo and save me and heal me, so I can stay in my victimness?" That's not what I do. I want a way we can heal ourselves. So, I bring in the information, and they choose whether they want to shift their lives or not. And that's why I wrote Bright Light. It occurred to me in this divine flash that the technique I use in my acting is exactly the technique of the creation process.  And I thought "How brilliant" -she says humbly (she snickers)- "to combine the two worlds." You can go on and read the testimonials, because basically what so many of them say is "It's your story, Dee, but it's my story." I get it. When I shut down, I know who hurt me, I know when I decided to lose my life, I get it...and I get that it's up to me to empower me again.

Did you have an abusive father?

No. He was never physically abusive, but very mentally and emotionally abusive to my mother when he would get very drunk. Never to the kids. But...

You were in the presence of it...

Absolutely. So I witnessed every night my dad getting drunk, running around naked, berating my mother...and my little brother getting very frightened, because there would be a lot of yelling...rescuing him and being the guardian of everybody, and pulling my dad off my mom and having to put my naked father into a cold shower to sober him up so he could keep a job...those aren't pretty things for a young girl. But you know, I want to be very clear...that's my story, and if I keep going back to my story and hanging on to my story and using my story to limit myself, I never create myself in this moment. And that's what so many of us are doing, and we don't understand why the creation process isn't happening, 'cause we're still trying to fix all the old shit. You just have to go, "That's what happened. I honor it, there's a reason, and the reason is I've got to learn the lesson that nobody or nothing can define me ever. I always get to choose to define me. How do I want to write the virtual reality of my script now?"

You do it in the lab and also privately?

I do three to five privates a day from Tokyo, London and Australia, Canada, all over the United States.

You do them on skype?

On skype, on the phone and in person. I just had my first training weekend on how to do this work. I had twenty people in my home and twenty people online at a pretty good, hefty price, I must add. It's incredibly empowering work...I started with one master class, so many people were asking me...and shit, everybody's working now! Creation can and should be very fast and miraculous. But you have to believe that that's a possibility in order for you to create that.

Tell me about the other two books previous to Bright Light. How are they different?

Conscious Creation is all channeled heady material, very much focused toward the spiritual community. Bright Light I wrote because I wanted to reach a larger audience and tell a story that would relate to their story and that they could enjoy. Look, if you're just an acting fan of mine, you'll love Bright Light as much as somebody who's looking for a spiritual lesson. I tell all the great stories of all my great directors and stuff that happened on the sets, so Bright Light is a much more accessible book. The Big E I wrote with one of my healing partners Jarrad Hewett, and it was just a lot of fun. We take all the things of our lifetimes that we've been raised with, that our mothers espoused overtures over and over again and go, "Look, this is what they used in order to teach you the wrong thing. The true understanding of creation...this is what it means." I call it my toilet book. It's great to sit on the toilet with - it's only a page, page and a half, each one...but you get it, you get it through the humor.

Let's switch over to acting for a while. I recently rewatched 10. You were so funny in that and by today's standards you should have been nominated for an Oscar for Supporting Actress.

Thank you. A lot of people thought I should have been put up, but I wasn't with an agent that was big enough. Nobody was taking care of me.

Too bad!  

Stephen King says that about Cujo on his website; that's his favorite film that was ever made.

Any new film coming up?

I had a great zombie film that I really have high hopes for; a distributor of horror films just picked it up. It's called Exit Humanity. I also just finished a film with Doris Roberts, which is a cute little comedy called Margarine Wars.

You're always working, and now with the healing, you're busy 24/7.

Pretty much, and I love it all. I just

You seem to be having fun. You radiate warmth from within. You always have. You glow and have such a positive effect on everybody.

Thank you. That's the best compliment you can give anybody.

As well as being a great actress, I've always imagined that you are a truly great person as well.

I am. (we laugh) I faked my life for a long time. What you see now...people come up to me all the time, strangers in the airport, literally and say, "I just wanted to say hi. I don't know why."

Do you have a favorite film of the ones you've done?

Cujo. As an actor, I went about as far as you can go. I'm truthful in every moment. I adore E.T. and I adore The Howling; I love all the films that I've done that are worth anything, but Cujo (1983), I've got to say...what it asked of me was so much more than I knew I had to give. I did it well I can claim that.

Anything that you want to add for our readers about Bright Light?

If you truly want to get out and create what you want, love yourself. The first thing is to love yourself. Every day you get up, you go, "How can I love myself more?" ...'cause none of us are every taught to do that. And that truly is the creation of your love, your light. When you know that, you know that you literally are the creation of you. Knowing you're the creation of you, there's nothing you can't create.

Dee Wallace will be appearing at Vroman's in Pasadena on August 30. Don't miss her! In the meantime, visit:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interview with John Stamos

In the Hollywood Bowl's production of Hairspray August 5, 6 and 7, directed by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, John Stamos will play the super suave TV Host Corny Collins. Stamos starred on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cabaret, Nine and Bye Bye Birdie and is known for his television work on Full House and ER, and this season on Glee and Law & Order: SVU. In our chat, he talks about Corny and his favorite theatrical ventures.

Describe Corny Collins in Hairspray.

Corny Collins is a DJ, a host of a radio show, the host of a live television music show...he's sort of like a straight Ryan Seacrest. (we laugh) The first time I saw the show I was in Cabaret, and it was a gypsy performance of Hairspray. I was in between shows; I felt like I still had some sparkly makeup on my nipples from the MC in Cabaret, and I saw the gypsy run through of Hairspray. I remember thinking "Oh my God, I have witnessed something magical. This is going to be a smash hit." 

How do you intend to make your Corny stand apart?

I haven't started rehearsals yet. I was thinking about that this morning. He's a clearly overconfident, sort of cocky, sure-of-himself kind of guy. It's fun to play a guy who's very overconfident. I'm a hair guy anyway.

You've been a heartthrob in your roles on TV and on stage. Do you ever tire of playing that kind of character?

I don't feel that Albert Peterson (Bye Bye Birdie) ...clearly I wasn't the heartthrob of that show.

Right. I had that one listed as a real exception.

I loved playing Albert Peterson because he's a quirkier character. I went from Full House from playing Uncle Jesse to J. Pierpont Finch (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). I remember at the time it was a choice of playing Danny Zuko (Grease) on Broadway or J. Pierpont Finch, and the idea of playing a nerdier, kind of physically different guy was much more appealing. When I started to prepare for Finch, I started with his walk, his physicality. I did the same thing with Albert in Bye Bye Birdie. What was inside of me was a quirkier, wiry version...

congratulating the current Broadway J. Pierpont Finch Daniel Radcliffe

(I interrupt) Without trying to imitate Dick Van Dyke's interpretation. 

(we laugh)
I love Dick Van Dyke. I always get excited playing these characters... and have played some bad guys that weren't so attractive and so cool. I think Corny is pretty cool. He doesn't have to be quirky; he thinks he's pretty cool. I've always loved doing that DJ voice. I'm going to tap into...what was the name of that homeless guy they found on the side of the road recently who has that great voice? ...Ted Williams. He was on all the TV shows and they gave him some work as a broadcaster. He has that deep Broadway voice...he's my inspiration for Corny Collins. (we laugh)

Talk about the MC in Cabaret. That's a great stretch. I wish I had seen you do that.

That was hands down so far the highlight of my career. It was the perfect time of my life, the perfect show for me at that time. I was trying to get away from the Uncle Jesse character. I remember scaring the shit out of people that were coming to see Uncle Jesse because it was not long after I had finished Full House. I remember thinking that I didn't want to upset them, so I should give them what they wanted. But Sam Mendes (director) said "No. You're not servicing the character by servicing the audience. Be true to the MC, and they'll come around, and eventually they did. I couldn't wait to get to the theatre to do that show. I wish I had done it longer. I can't remember why I stopped. Then they asked me to come back, but I had the choice of going back or taking over for Antonio (Banderas)
in Nine. I hadn't done that, so I took it on, but that was a bigger...I think I wasn't mature enough to play that role yet. I was barely 40 and I hadn't gone through enough in life to play that role properly. 
But Cabaret was the best time.
Let's switch to your love of music and playing with the Beach Boys. How did all that begin?

I started in '85. It's been 26 years. I still play with them. I just got off a month tour with them. It's been one of those great things that have been continuous in my life. The Beach Boys really painted the tableau of California and surfing. When I grew up, they were my favorite band. I met them when I was on General Hospital. They said, "Do you want to come and play drums?"
That was the beginning of a long beautiful relationship. I played a little more and had them on my television shows, I recorded with them and toured quite a bit with them in the 80s and 90s. My goal has always been to introduce the Beach Boys to a younger generation. With the downfall of radio, where are kids going to really hear them? Right now I'm producing a feature film with Fox. It's sort of a teenage love story with their music intertwined, kind of like Mama Mia.

That sounds great. What's your favorite TV role?

Don, no one has ever asked me that. I would have to say I love Blackie, the first character I ever played, on General Hospital. Over the two years of being on a soap opera, you get to play every emotion on the planet and with twenty to thirty takes a was my first job and a very exciting time for me. I loved playing him.

What do you think is your mission as an entertainer?

I like to make people happy. I'd rather someone say I'm funny as opposed to better looking and make them laugh rather than cry. I'm fascinated by comedy. I love being around comics, comedians. Stand up comedy, I love. It's much harder to do comedy than drama. It's almost mathematical with all the rhythms.

You've done several courageous projects that I laud you for. One in  particular was The Wedding
Wars on TV. 

I'm very proud of that movie. One of my best friends Neil Meron who produced that and Chicago
with Craig Zadan... I give them credit for bringing the musical back: Chicago, the movie of Hairspray. They also did all the great TV musicals like Gypsy, The Judy Garland Story. I did Raisin in the Sun with them. They came to me with The Wedding Wars, and I said "Yes! I believe in the cause. I believe in gay marriage and want to get the word out there." That was a no-brainer. I jumped right on it. I wish they would replay it. It didn't get as much credit as it should have. I don't want to get into politics, but I was upset that it didn't get promoted enough. The message is so important, especially now.

Catch John Stamos as Corny Collins in Hairspray, co-starring with original Broadway stars Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur at the Hollywood Bowl.

HAIRSPRAY will have three performances only -- Friday and Saturday August 5 and 6 at 8:30pm, and Sunday August 7 at 7:30pm.  Single tickets are available in person at the Hollywood Bowl box office, by calling 323.850.2000 and at