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Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris

In this article, I got to chat with Broadway performer and author, Sam Harris.

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris

I will never forget seeing this performer for the first time live on stage. It was 1997 and two buddies I was doing a regional show with invited me to go to NYC on our next day off, which happened to be a Wednesday, which meant the possibility to see two Broadway shows. We all split off and went to different box offices to stand in line for student rush tickets. I waited in line for tickets to JEKYLL AND HYDE while my friend Ryan stood in line for THE LIFE. Turned out that I got to buy tickets first and choose the matinee performance. Luckily, we actually all had phones then and were able to communicate so that Ryan knew to get tickets for the evening performance, which he did. Little did I know what amazing performers we would see on those two stages that day!

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris
Sam with the cast of THE LIFE

The first large group number of THE LIFE was led by the character of Jojo and was called "Use What You Got". A really great uptempo Cy Coleman song with sharp dancing and a lot of booming high notes. WHO is this actor and HOW does he sing like that?? Turns out that this performer spent 14 weeks on the original Star Search's first season winning him the title of male vocalist champion. He also would later become nominated for a TONY award for his role in THE LIFE. The character sings "You gotta use whatcha got, to get whatcha want, before whatcha got is gone". The performer is none other than Sam Harris and I can guarantee you that the outstanding talent that Sam exuded that night in 1997 is nowhere near gone!

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

SH: My mentor was a man named Jerry Blatt. He was a brilliant writer and director. He wrote for Broadway, wrote/directed most all of Bette Midler's shows, as well as television. I met him when I was 19 years old. He changed my life. He taught me about authenticity on the stage. He detested safe choices. He taught me about storytelling and honesty. He taught me to work from the inside out. He taught me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. He affected every aspect of my life and career. He died in 1989 of AIDS. I think of him every day.

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

SH: What a great question. As so many of us in this business experienced when we were young, I found my tribe in the theatre - all of us misfits who seemed to understand the human condition on a different level. We finally belonged. It has also given me the means of expression and the opportunity to really look at who I am and what I want to say. And then be it. It sounds cliché but I am most at home on the stage or behind a laptop, writing. And I could live in a rehearsal hall! Pure creativity. The place to try and fail and try again. It's also given me a very comfortable life and the freedom to experience things beyond what I could have imagined. It's given me friendships and family. Sometimes I pinch myself because my friends are people who are at the top of their craft, whom I admire so much.

What has it taken away? Hmmm. I can't think of a thing. Not a thing, that is, that isn't connected to ego. The fear that accompanies this business. I mean, there is so much about this business that is about what you've done or where you are at any given point in time. And the ups and downs are unavoidable. But there is something in the theatre, of all entertainment, that has respect which is not as ephemeral as other mediums. We're not as flaky. Once you're in the club....

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

SH: It's not pretty! I have a hard time getting on stage. I've always had stage fright. I'm always concerned about my ability to deliver. In addition to my warm ups, I have traditions and routines and certain things to drink and eat and superstitions to ground me. Once I'm out there, all that dissipates and I find a freedom, but beforehand, this little voice comes into the back of my head that says, "What are you doing? Who the hell do you think you are...." And then I remember! Ha!

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

SH: That's tough. I don't think I've ever had anywhere close to a perfect performance at any time. My best performances are the ones that I just floated in the place of the words and let it take me to wherever, so I don't tend to remember them. But if I had to choose one performance, to re-experience it, I'd say the first time I played Carnegie Hall. It was early in my career and it was so overwhelming, and I was so young and green. I guess I'd go back to that to really live it in a new way as a much older man.

NA: What are you most proud of?

SH: My family. My husband. My son. I'm also proud of the things I've created outside of playing characters written by others. The top of that list is my show, "HAM: A Musical Memoir," (based on my book "HAM: Slices of a Life") which played in NY and LA and then was filmed for television. Off the stage, my just-released book, "The Substance of All Things," is probably the work I'm most proud of. It was 4 years in the writing. The response has been pretty amazing. It's an exciting time.

NA: What was your favorite memory of being on Star Search?

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris
Sam with Ed McMahon

SH: Probably the way my life changed practically overnight. It was like I was finally seen, for all my quirks and oddness, which were not only accepted but celebrated. My biggest memory during the actual show is nervously sitting on the floor in the hallway of the studio smoking and drinking apple juice before I went on.

NA: What singers did you admire growing up and when did you start studying voice?

SH: I was an odd duck. At a really early age, I was into Billy Holiday and Etta James and Aretha Franklin. And ALL the Broadway shows. And all the great belters. I loved musical theatre because it seemed always to be about strong people overcoming circumstances. As a gay kid growing up in the Bible Belt, it gave me escape and strength and hope. As far as my voice, I always sang, but I didn't start studying until I was going on tour and had to learn to technically protect myself.

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris
Sam with Liza Minelli

NA: What is the most challenging aspect of recording in a studio?

SH: Probably trying NOT to try to make everything perfect. When I was recording "Different Stages" (Broadway album) and "Standard Time" (standards album) with the great Peter Matz orchestrating and producing, we recorded them live with a full orchestra. 25 songs in two days! Though I was isolated, he wouldn't let me fix much. He said that what happened during the live recording was real. "You prepared for this, you trained like an athlete, you were ready, and whatever human flaws you are hearing were part of the experience." Trying to make something perfect takes out the humanness of the performance, which is the real perfection.

NA: How did THE LIFE change your life?

SH: I LOVED doing that show. It was the best cast EVER! I mean, we always find our family in the cast that we're in, show to show. They become our everything. But that was a special show and a special time. And I was given such great material to originate and perform 8 times a week. What a blessing. I loved walking into that stage door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre every night. It felt like a privilege.

NA: What do you love about performing in a cabaret setting versus the Broadway stage?Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris

SH: While I've performed in so many clubs all over the place, most of my concert work has been in theaters and performing arts centers. Of course, in cabaret, you're right there! They can see every bead of sweat. It's more intimate, naturally. No faking a damn thing! But there is NOTHING like Broadway. Everything that's up on the stage is created by the cream of the crop - directors, choreographers, designers, and other actors that just lift everything as a team. Plus - it's freaking Broadway! Knowing you're part of a tradition of all the people and shows that preceded you on that stage is an incredible feeling.

Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Sam Harris NA: What creative element are you working on now?

SH: In addition to promoting the new book, "The Substance of All Things" which can be purchased in print, ebook, and audible at, I have some other great news. The film of my show, "HAM: A Musical Memoir" is going to debut on the new Laemmle Theatre streaming platform on December 3rd, and then on Broadway HD starting January 7th. My music director, Todd Schroeder, and I developed the show in New York with Billy Porter and he directed that production. Then we mounted it in LA. The response was pretty amazing! Then we filmed it at The Pasadena Playhouse with an exceptional director and design team. I am so proud of this. I think anyone who is in theatre or loves theatre will especially appreciate this.

Click HERE for the link to the trailer of "HAM: A Musical Memoir"

Click HERE to get streaming tickets

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