by: Brian Scott Lipton
Sam Harris first rocketed to fame 30 years on the TV competition show, “Star Search,” becoming the series’ first grand champion and thrilling viewers with his amazing voice. Since then, he’s dazzled theatergoers with his performances in such shows as “Grease,” “Joseph and the Amazing Dreamcoat,” “The Life,” and “The Producers,” and played many of the country’s top cabaret venues.
But when he comes to town on January 15th for a four-night run at 54 Below, Harris will be giving his audience a new experience – what he calls a “literusical.” It’s actually the premiere, albeit in somewhat truncated form, of his new solo theater piece based on his just-published book “Ham: Slices of a Life” “New York is the most important city in the world to me, and I chose it for a tryout,” he says, laughing.
The show incorporates excerpts from the book with a wide variety of musical material, ranging from the opening number “Open Book,” which Harris recently wrote, to pop, Broadway, and more. “The songs move the plot,” says Harris. “It’s not just like I tell a story and sing a song.”
However, Harris’ stories from the book are at the heart of the act. “It’s these stories and essays on my childhood as a gay kid in Oklahoma, as a Broadway guy, as a father, and husband,” he says of the book. “It’s funny and it’s dark, just like life. And while it’s a memoir, it’s not strictly an autobiography. It’s not linear or chronological.”
As Harris admits, the idea of writing the book originally seemed daunting, until he got some inspiration from a certain Tony Award-winning actor. “My friend Frank Langella had recently written his own book (“Dropped Names”) and he told me to just start writing,” he says. “To me, writing a book seemed so ominous, so big, something other people could do. But then I just started, and all of sudden, there were 30 pages, then 80 pages, then 100 pages.” While Harris does talk about many of the famous people he’s worked with over the past four decades, don’t expect him to dish any dirt. “I reveal more of myself than I do about other celebrities,” he says. “It’s not catty or a tell-all.”
Whether he’s talking or singing, though, Harris has one goal in mind. “I consider myself a storyteller above all,” he says. “Fortunately, I can sing what I hear in my head, but I don’t feel the need to show off vocally as much as I did when I was younger. It has to come from my heart.”
Sam Harris will be appearing at 54 Below January 15th thru 18th
54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019
Photos: Maryann Lopinto