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BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar

Jeff Harnar is chock-full of the guy-next-door magnetism of the bygone era of Hollywood's Golden age of male stars. He is someone that the audience knows they can trust, is easy to enjoy with just a hint of mischievousness to keep things interesting. He is the modern-day equivalent to film stars Van Johnson or Gene Kelly.

While Jeff is not a film actor, he has delighted audiences on television singing on several PBS specials including, "The 1959 Broadway Songbook", "Remember: Songs of the Holidays" and "Live from NJPAC: Stephen Sondheim". The later two specials were with cabaret chanteuse KT Sullivan.

Seeing Jeff perform reminds a person of the heyday of Hollywood's performers - the 1930s and 1940s where you'd get all dolled up to go spend the evening at a supper club. A destination of entertainment going from cocktail hour to dinner to nightclub entertainment. It is easy to see why Jeff fit in so well at the famed Oak Room at The BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff HarnarAlgonquin Hotel.

Always well dressed, polished, and sincere, Jeff takes you on a journey through each performance with his attention to detail and charm that wins over the audience. Harnar is careful to not only entertain but to instill a message in each performance. He is not the type of performer that sings only for the applause, but, as you will read he sets out to connect and inspire. His performances have been recognized by his peers through multiple BroadwayWorld Cabaret Awards as well as MAC and Bistro Awards.

It is clear to see that Jeff is at home both on stage and off stage as a director. He connects with the lyrics and material and leads you through a journey as only a true entertainer can.

NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?

JH: I've had the gift of many superb mentors. I like to think as long as I remain teachable, virtually everyone can be a mentor on some life lesson. But since you asked

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar
Jeff with Sondra Lee, KT Sullivan and Jon Weber.
All photos provided by Jeff Harnar

who is my mentor, the name at the forefront is that legendary Broadway Baby, Sondra Lee. Sondra came into my life as Tiger Lilly back when Mary Martin's "Peter Pan" flew into my living room through a black and white tv. The fact that today she is directing my Sondheim show is a profoundly synchronistic gift. What I would say to Sondra is, "Thank you for always placing the level of excellence at 'telling the truth; stating the facts' and for being a touchstone at what integrity and 'doing the work' look like by your example. You are 'an essential,' and you have forever changed me."

NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

JH: My work as an entertainer and as a director have given my life meaning, purpose, and an opportunity to be of service to audiences, songwriters, fellow artists and to myself, both onstage and off. I guess the sacrifice has been some sense of economic security... and yet the universe has always provided. I'm hugely grateful to be doing what I love, with people I love and be a part of so many uplifting, vibrant communities.

NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?

JH: Well, in most venues it's the tech/soundcheck, dealing with all the variables to try to have some sense of support before the leap... and then getting suited up. I always carve out some time for a sandwich (hunger onstage feels like fear and pulls me out of the experience) and some prayer and meditation. I make sure to clarify my intention to be of service to the audience and material. Then it's time to take the bungee jump into the unknowns and discoveries of a live performance.

NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

JH: Really?! Those precious onstage hours are mostly far too priceless, joyful and

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar
Jeff with Shauna Hicks

unique to choose from.

One that would be on my short list would be the night Shauna Hicks and I brought our "I GOT RHYTHM: Mickey & Judy's Hollywood" to Town Hall with a 35 piece orchestra.

The show was born at the Firebird Café, a 70 seat venue, Directed by Barry Kleinbort with James Followell as Music Director, and over the years expanded to a full two-act symphony "pops" concert we've performed around the country. Shauna and I had met as singing waiters in the 1980s at Mrs. J's Sacred Cow, so the "Mickey and Judy" trajectory was not lost on us. We literally went from saying "let's put on a show" to being "Babes on Broadway" with that show. It was a triumphant night for us, with the constellation of joys of the brilliant musicians on stage, that glorious theater, that savvy New York audience, made all the more meaningful by our shared personal history. Happily five minutes of it is there to relive on YouTube.

Right behind that would be my senior year high school musical "Kismet," playing Hajj opposite Liz Callaway as Lalume, wearing the original Broadway costumes from Brooks Van Horne, having a full orchestra conducted by my first great mentor, Dr. William J. Peterman, with spectacular sets in a 1,500 hundred seat theater. Happily, five minutes of that survives via Super 8 sound home movie clips on YouTube.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar
KISMET New Trier East High School
Jeff top center; Liz Callaway seated right

NA: What are you most proud of?

JH: That I'm still here.

NA: What brought you to New York and what keeps you here?

JH: Since I was a child and spent the night at my Aunt Fran's Murray Hill apartment, I knew New York would be my home. I came as a student at New York University, craving BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnarto be part of the city's electric energy and artistic dynamism, and happily that what keeps me here. Aunt Fran is long gone and I have no biological family here, but what an extraordinary "logical" I've found here.

NA: You have hosted a night on the Cabaret Convention several times. Who were you most excited to meet and why?

JH: Andrea Marcovicci and I will co-host our ninth Cabaret Convention night in October, celebrating Yip Harburg and we're so immensely grateful to KT Sullivan and The Mabel Mercer Foundation for that opportunity. Side note, speaking of mentors that shaped my life, I must mention Donald Smith, who founded the Mabel Mercer Foundation and was my manager and publicist for years. So much of the path I am on today he helped carve and guide me along. As far as the galaxy of artists who we get to meet and celebrate each year on those nights we've hosted, it's important to understand that everyone gifts the Mabel Mercer Foundation with their time and talent. The Convention is the primary fundraiser for the not-for-profit Foundation. So, we've been absolutely amazed at the extraordinary artists who have agreed to appear on those nights. It's been a Who's Who of the greats from Karen Akers, Steve Ross, Christine Andreas, Clint Holmes, and Marilyn Maye, and more, all so lovely backstage and spectacular onstage. But since you've asked for a "who," I will say we felt especially excited to be introducing the Convention audiences to the British duo of Ferris and Milnes. Their dazzling Gershwin medley, over 20 songs in five minutes cleverly interwoven and overlapping, brought down the house. Check them out!

NA: Describe a perfect day off for you.

JH: One of the things I love about my life is that no day feels like "work" (except often the travel days and the sound checks) and no day is "off," as there's always some project underfoot that needs some attention. But to know me is to know I love movies (in an actual movie theater, please), so any day that includes a movie has given me a little special oasis. And now, mid-pandemic, when every day is a virtual "day off," I appreciate my pre-pandemic lifestyle all the more.

NA: You work often with the great Alex Rybeck. How did you start working together?

JH: I thank Stephen Flaherty for the recommendation (and Alex probably blames him!).

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Jeff Harnar
Jeff with Alex Rybeck

In 1983 I set out to do my first cabaret act and had heard Stephen accompanying a show brilliantly at The Duplex. He wasn't available, something to do with hoping to write a Broadway Musical ... who knew?! He gave me a list of candidates to check out. Alex's name was the first. I heard him play at NYU and the search was over! Boy, did I get that right. Oh, how that 37-year musical partnership has shaped my performing life. And, as Alex and his family are exceptional people, I've had the gift of his loving "chosen family" throughout the years, as well.

NA: For someone new to cabaret, what advice would you offer them?

JH: I love the suggestion that before we speak, we ask ourselves these 3 questions:

Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said right now? Does it need to be said by me?

Well, as a cabaret performer, setting out onstage asking to hold an audience's attention for an hour, the answers better be YES to all three!


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