Sam Harris aims for Jolson & ‘Reclamation’

Jun 18

First, two issues that need addressing:
– Why isn’t Sam Harris performing his new gay marriage anthem “My Reclamation” at San Francisco’s Gay Pride celebration? It’s a beautiful, moving ode to love and equal rights — part defiant manifesto, part gorgeous ballad. So far, Harris is not slated to appear on any Gay Pride stage, and that seems, to say the least, like a missed opportunity.
Sam Harris1 – Why isn’t “Glee”mastermind Ryan Murphy begging Sam Harris to play one of Rachel’s (Lea Michelle) two dads? It’s such a brilliant no brainer. Can you just imagine the Harris/Michelle power duets? A show queen’s mind fairly boggles.

We’re thinking about Sam Harris because the big-voiced, Tony-nominated performer is headed back to San Francisco’s Rrazz Room, where he triumphed in a last-minute, late-night about a year ago. It just so happens that Harris’ gig coincides with all the Gay Pride revelry, which can hardly be accidental. In addition to his new song, Harris’ life is practically a paean to the fully integrated, 21st century gay life. He and his husband, Danny, are busy raising their 2-year-old son, Cooper, who after a recent trip to the theater (the child’s first) to see Sesame Street Live, told his dads, “Cooper up there, sing, dance with Cookie Monster.” You could hardly expect less from the spawn of Harris.

“We don’t watch much TV in our house, but I do go to YouTube and show him things like Donald O’Connor doing `Make ‘em Laugh,’” Harris says on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “My favorite words from his mouth are, `More Gene Kelly! More Gene Kelly!’ The fact that he’s been backstage when I’m performing or on stage during sound checks — he’s been exposed to show biz. I mean come on, Liza Minnelli (Harris’ good friend) is in his life. It’s inevitable he’s going to be drawn to this environment. But we’re not enrolling him in tap class just yet. He’s into garbage trucks, Elmo, Cookie Monster and playing with balls. He’s a little scrapper.”

The 49-year-old Harris could be a described as a scrapper himself. Ever since winning that first big singing contest (on a little pre-“American Idol” show we used to call “Star Search”), Harris has made a living being an old-fashioned entertainer in a new-fangled world. He’s done albums, Broadway, TV sitcoms and the concert circuit. He’s frank and funny, and full of energy — that much you can see on his regular YouTube posts. Then there’s that voice, a Streisand-esque marvel that soars to unbelievable heights even as it plumbs emotional depths.

Sam Harris2In addition to promoting his “My Reclamation” single, Harris is working on a couple of projects. The big one is something he started working on years ago: a stage biography of Al Jolson, a heart-on-his-sleeve, voices-in-the-rafters entertainer who shares entertainer DNA with Harris.

“This show is meaty and dark and gritty and fat and complicated and really the best part for a man ever, ever, ever,” Harris explains. “It’s about somebody whose first love was the stage. It deals with his relationship with his father and with Ruby Keeler. It’s the inside of this darkly megalomaniacal man who was like a child, kind of a schmuck and then very kind at other times.”

Harris, obviously enamored of the part, goes so far as to call it “the Mama Rose of men’s roles.” The musical, which has been called Let Me Sing and Jolie features a book by Sherman Yellen and music and lyrics by Will Holt (the show also incorporates Jolson’s biggest songs and standards of the day).

“It’s interesting because I did an incarnation of this 10 years ago, and it almost went to Broadway,” Harris recalls. “We had costume fittings and had an out-of-town theater in Boston, but the financing dropped out in an afternoon. But I realized recently that at this time in my life, I’m so much more ready and prepared and right for it than I would have been then. It’s my goal to look at everything that way: work hard toward a goal and go where the universe takes you. I think that now the show’s chances for success are much greater.”

The other project is still a hush-hush TV project. “It’s getting a lot of heat,” Harris says. “I’ll hopefully be able to talk about it soon. It not only satisfies me creatively but also satisfies the obligation to my philosophy, which is about paying it forward.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Sam Harris in concert, June 23-27 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Call 866 468-3399 or visit www.therrazzroom.com.

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