Mr. Harris and the wham of Sam

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: Sam Harris is well aware of Adam Lambert.


Harris, the big winner on the first-ever season of “Star Search” back in the ’80s, has a gorgeous, seamlessly streamlined voice with an incredible range. Lambert, the current favorite on this season of “American Idol,” has a similar instrument, a similarly theatrical style and more than a hint of Harris in every note.

“If you Google Sam Harris and Adam Lambert, you come up with thousands of Web sites,” Harris says on the phone from his Los Angeles-area home. “I’ve met Adam, and we’ve done some of the same benefits. I couldn’t be more flattered because he’s immensely talented. I find out fairly often that I’ve influenced people in some way, and I feel like I’m this young person in the middle of my prime! The other day I was at lunch, and the maître’d said to me, `I came out to LA because you inspired me to be in show business.’ I was flattered but I wanted to say, `I’m not that old!'”

For the record, Harris turns 48 next month, and he’s been in the public eye for almost 30 years, whether he was performing “God Bless the Child” in a straightjacket on an LA cabaret stage or making TV history with a soaring version of “Over the Rainbow.”

He opens Friday at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room for two late shows (10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday), and it’s a rare chance to hear Harris in an intimate setting.

“We primarily play theaters because I design my shows with a theatrical arc,” Harris says. “But I love the different environment of a club. It’s freer in a way. To do what we do with the people right there is fun. You’re quite naked. It’s just you, and I enjoy that. I didn’t used to. I liked to feel more separation because it gave me more theatrical freedom. But I love the challenge of all of us being right there. You’ve got to be real, man. They can tell if you’re not telling the truth, and as a storyteller, that’s your primary job.”

Life is good for Sam Harris these days. He and Danny Jacobsen, his partner of 15 years (and legal husband in California), are the proud parents of year-old Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobsen.

“My greatest joy is my family,” Harris says. “Becoming a parent is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

For his San Francisco shows, Harris will be joined by longtime musical director Todd Schroeder. They’ve been picking some old favorites and working on some new tunes. Harris’ love of being a parent is evident in certain song selections such as Maury Yeston’s “New Words.”

“I have a tendency to put too much about Cooper into the show,” Harris says. “Everything I do now is affected by him. He is the great love of my life. He’s everything. But, you know those people who show you hundreds of pictures of their kids? I recognize that while I know Cooper is the most gorgeous, genius, advanced child on Earth, not everyone will want to know that.”

Schroeder and Harris have been working on a medley of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “I’m Still Here.” He’s also planning a Kurt Weill-ish arrangement of “Ain’t We Got Fun” as a reflection of the economy.

Harris has been through San Francisco many times – first on his official concert tour following his “Star Search” win when he released two albums on the Motown label. Then he played the Plush Room several times.

Of course he loves San Francisco audiences (who doesn’t?).

“Audiences there are singular,” he says. They’re family-ish. They’re involved and enthusiastic. And they laugh. I love playing San Francisco.”

Later this year, Harris may be starting on the road back to Broadway, where he was a hit in Grease (which co-starred one of his best friends, Rosie O’Donnell) and The Life. He’ll be in the pre-Broadway production of The First Wives Club at the Old Globe in San Diego. He’s playing a role that wasn’t in the movie. He’s sort of the fourth Musketeer donning disguises to help the ex-wives seek revenge on their former husbands. Rupert Holmes wrote the book and the score is by the hit-generating team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (think of any early Motown hit and they probably wrote it).

Harris also has a new album, Free, which includes an emotionally wrenching version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and he’s developing a sitcom for Fox that was inspired by his foray into the world of video blogs or vlogs. Inspired by his blog-happy friend Rosie, Harris has his own channel on YouTube ( and posts counseling sessions where he answers viewers’ questions, provides helpful hints (like how to fold a T-shirt in two moves), sings a cappella, gushes about his baby and otherwise holds court in his inimitably charming way. On Fridays he even posts interviews he does with his famous friends.

One of the producers of “The Class,” a promising but ultimately canceled CBS sitcom on which Harris played a gay-acting straight guy, is helping Harris develop the show.

“I’m as engaged as ever,” Harris says. “I thoroughly love singing, acting, writing and being a storyteller. I’m still ambitious, and I’m driven because I love my work. My work doesn’t define me. It’s what I do and reflects who I am. There was a time when I was young when I wouldn’t even talk to you if you hadn’t heard me sing. If you had heard me, you might like or even love me. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t know how to distinguish myself or express myself. But now, my work is a reflection of how I think and how I feel. After my family, my work is my great joy.”

[Set your DVRs – Sam Harris appears in the May 11 episode of “The Rules of Engagement” on CBS.]

Sam Harris appears in concert at The Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco at 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9. Tickets are $35-$40 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 866-468-3399 or visit for information.

Now here’s a glimpse of SamTube, Sam Harris’ assortment of advice, performance and interviews:

Make `ShowBusiness’ your business

One of the most interesting documentaries of the year had nothing to do with health care or Iraq.

ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway sort of slipped in and out of theaters without a whole lot of fanfare, which is really too bad because director Dori Berinstein has created a fascinating glimpses behind the scenes of four major musicals opening in New York during the 2003-2004 season.

Luckily, the movie came out on DVD this week (Liberation Entertainment, $28.95).

For her movie, Berinstein picked four musicals to follow, and boy did she pick good ones: Wicked, Avenue Q, Caroline, or Change and Taboo.

Bay Area audiences, of course, got the first look at Wicked during its pre-Broadway tryout. We had the great fortune to see Caroline, and Avenue Q made its overdue local debut last August. The only real mystery in this bunch is Taboo, the Rosie O’Donnell-produced ’80s flashback revolving around Boy George: his life, his music and himself (he was in the cast).

Of the four, Wicked and Avenue Q were monster hits and are still running. Caroline is an esteemed flop by Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori. And Taboo is known as one of Broadway’s great disasters.

The movie follows each of the shows from the summer of 2003 up to the Tony Awards in 2004 when Avenue Q upset favorite Wicked for the Best Musical award.

Along the way, we get fascinating glimpses of the creative process, the marketing machine and the economics of Broadway. One of the juiciest threads involves tension between Jeff Marx, the co-composer of Avenue Q and Jeff Whitty, the book writer who was brought on board relatively late in the creative process.

It all ends happily, with Tony Awards for everyone, but the two did not get along, and it’s not pretty. Marx’s parents, by the way, turn out to be a highlight of the movie.

Director Berinstein includes several round-table discussions with New York theater critics, and this, to me, is a horror show. These nattering fools (save Charles Isherwood from the New York Times, who salvages a shred of dignity) make critics look like the lowest possible bottom feeders in the show business pool. Ouch.

Covering such a diverse assortment of shows, Berinstein ended up with more than 250 hours of video that had to be whittled down to 104 minutes.

“The season was a roller coaster with highly anticipated shows closing early and little shows coming out of nowhere to take Broadway by storm,” Berinstein says. “There was no way to predict where the Season was heading. Consequently, it was necessary to capture everything. Editing, as a result, was a massive and extremely difficult process. Narrowing down our primary storytelling to four musicals was excruciating. So many extraordinary moments are on the cutting room so to speak. I can’t wait until we assemble the DVD.”

Visit the movie’s official site at

Here’s the trailer from ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway, followed by a clip featuring Idina Menzel of Wicked.

RIP Rosie

I have to admit that last week’s “contretemps,” as Barbara Walters put it, between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck left me a little sad.

I have TiVo’d “The View” pretty much every day since O’Donnell joined the cast last September, and I grew quite addicted. The conversations were lively (and a shout out to Joy Behar, a consistently funny, opinionated and intelligent woman who never really gets her due) and interesting, and though the guest spots could be tiresome, I thoroughly enjoyed all the Broadway pizzazz O’Donnell brought to the show. I hope the producers (one of whom is Walters) keeps up the Broadway connection forged by O’Donnell.

The saddest part is that O’Donnell’s premature departure (by three weeks) robs us of a proper goodbye for the big-mouthed and even bigger-hearted host who has done the most to make the show watchable on a daily basis (I’ll still probably check in with the show from time to time).

I know it’s wrong, but I’m glad O’Donnell’s producer scribbled a moustache on Hasselbeck’s photo, and I’m even glad guest Alicia Silverstone (who had the misfortune to be the first person onstage after Rosie and Elisabeth’s knock-down-drag-out) snubbed Hasselbeck and gave O’Donnell a big, fat hug.

Of course we’ll be hearing more from O’Donnell (there’s a rumor buzzing that she’s going to be Madame Thenardier in the current Les Miserables revival), but I’ll miss haning out with her everyday.

Full-on Barbra love

On Monday (Nov. 13) I will be one of thousands making the trek to San Jose’s HP Pavilion to see Barbra Streisand say farewell to live performance (again).

I’m admitting it here, in public, amidst my Dogs, that I am a lifelong lover of BS. I’ve been with her through it all, including good taste and bad taste (hers and mine), good movies and bad (hers), good songs and bad (hers again). I saw her say farewell six years ago in Los Angeles, and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to see her in my own backyard (so to speak).

In our Nov. 12 paper we ran a Barbra extravaganza penned by yours truly. You can read it here, but you’ll miss the brilliant graphics by Greg Traverso of our graphics department.

One of the things I included was something I called The Perfect Streisand Mix, which is really just a compliaton of some of favorite BS tunes that you might not necesarily know. I re-print the list below with a few additions because in cyberspace, there are no space limitations.

Oh, and Rosie O’Donnell, if you’re reading (and of course she is — Lily Tomlin told her to never miss a Theater Dogs blog entry), I want to be in your Barbra Streisand fan documentary. Rosie, you and I speak each other’s sentences when it comes to Barbra and Broadway.

The perfect Streisand playlist
In this world of online music downloading and portable playlists, we offer the following (highly subjective but based on decades of research) menu of Streisand delicacies. These aren’t necessarily the hits, but they’re great.

“Down with Love” (from “The Second Barbra Streisand Album,” 1963)
“If I Could” (from “Higher Ground,” 1997)
“Jingle Bells?” (from “A Christmas Album,” 1967)
“Where or When” (from “Color Me Barbra,” 1966)
“Since I Fell for You” (from “Barbra Joan Streisand,” 1971)
“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” (from “Harold Sings Arlen with Friend,” 1966)
“My Man” (from “Funny Girl,” the original motion picture soundtrack, 1968)
“Pavane (Vocalise)” (from “Classical Barbra,” 1976)
“Love with All the Trimmings” (from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1970)
“Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead” (from “Live Concert at the Forum,” 1972)
“Clear Sailing” (from “Emotion,” 1984)
“Yentl Medley” (from “Barbra: The Concert,” 1984)
“I’ll Be Home” (from “Stoney End,” 1971)
“Somewhere” (from “The Broadway Album,” 1985)

I’d also add: “More In Love with You” (from “The Movie Album,” 2003); “Letting Go” (from “Guilty Pleasures,” 2005); “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” (from “Duets,” 2002);
“Places That Belong to You” (from “The Prince of Tides,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1991); “Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch” (from “The Broadway Album,” 1985); “One More Night” (from “Songbird,” 1978); “The Woman in the Moon” (from“A Star Is Born,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1976); “There’s Gonna Be A Great Day” (from “Funny Lady,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1975); “Pieces of Dreams” (from “The Way We Were,” 1974); “I Never Has Seen Snow” (from “Barbra Streisand…and Other Musical Instruments,” 1973).

I’ll blog about the concert after I catch my breath.

Broadway back on daytime

Rosie O’Donnell has indeed brought Broadway back to daytime. Last week on The View, she interviewed Georgia Engel and unleashed Tony-winners Bob Martin (who should win awards as the most endearing man in a sweater ever on Broadway) and Beth Leavel, who sang a belt-’til-they-applaud version of “Stumble Along,” her ode to drunkenness as life’s aspiration.

We can expect to see more Broadway bits as the season progresses. Could the Chorus Line kids be far behind? A tip of the Bob Fosse bowler hat to Regis & Kelly for allowing Broadway troupers to grace their soundstage as well.

In another daytime Broadway vein, Megan Mullally, the Emmy-winning star of Will & Grace and a Broadway veteran (the Matthew Broderick revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), opened her brand-new talk show with — get this — a production number. She used songs from Hair outfitted with new lyrics and a motley back-up crew to separate herself from other talkers like Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray and Ellen DeGeneres. Mullally’s the only one who’ll be singing on her show. It’s a good distinction to have because, so far, her skills as a talk-show host are minimal at best. I hate to say it, but we miss Karen Walker.

Now the question is: If Broadway’s back in daytime, will Broadway’s boom just get boomier?

Everything’s Coming up Rosie!

Watched Rosie O’Donnell’s first week on The View (thank you TiVo, you’re the best spouse anyone could ask for), and I have to say this: I missed her a lot.

I missed the brashness. I missed the in-your-face jokes. I even missed the discussion of her kids. I adore Ellen DeGeneres, but these days I’m enjoying Rosie and company (Barbara Walters, Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck are fine, but it’s really Rosie’s show now — in this photo it looks like Walters is pulling out one of O’Donnell’s infamous chin hairs).

Rosie on

At the end of the week, Rosie wished to express some disappointment that four whole shows had gone by and they hadn’t done anything Broadway. Then she proceeded to give the audience tickets to The Wedding Singer. OK, so it’s not exactly a great give-away, but it’s a national plug for a Broadway musical. Go, Rosie!

And I’m sure we can count on Ms. O’Donnell to liven up The View with more Broadway stars and performances.

You’ve probably heard of Rosie’s blog (Walters was supposedly miffed by it, but they squashed those rumors last week). If you haven’t read it, you should check it out. It’s a stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts that reads sort of like poetry. Sample it here.