Sam Harris aims for Jolson & ‘Reclamation’

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.”


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

Ballet and belts: Smuin Ballet and Sam Harris

It was a perfect Friday-night cultural double feature: opening night of Smuin Ballet’s spring season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and then a quick dash to the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko for Sam Harris’ late night cabaret gig.


I’m no dance critic, so I won’t even try to analyze the three pieces of Smuin’s highly enjoyable spring season, but I will share what I loved. I fully expected to enjoy St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet, the last narrative ballet Michael Smuin completed before his death two years ago. Originally conceived for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, this dance version of the 1946 Broadway musical by Harold Arlen (music), Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and writers Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen was part of Berkeley’s Cal Performances season in 2004.

This version uses the same Tony Walton set and Willa Kim costumes (both hot and gorgeous) but seemed shorter. It uses a recorded soundtrack of Arlen’s irresistible music and the great Arlen-Mercer songs such as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Cakewalk Your Lady,” “Ridin’ on the Moon” and “It’s a Woman’s Prerogative.”

I have to admit it’s a little weird to see a story that’s supposed to be performed by an all African-American cast inhabited by a predominantly white cast. But the dancing is flashy and fun, full of Broadway pizzazz and flash.

The real stand-out of the night for me is the second piece, Bouquet, which Smuin choreographed to the music of Shostakovich. Romantic and achingly beautiful, the piece begins with a pas de quatre (Erin Yarbrough-Stewart, Darren Anderson, Ryan Camou and Shannon Hurlburt) and ends with a pas de deux by Brooke Reynolds and Aaron Thayer that is an exquisite expression of love through dance.

For information about the Smuin season tour, visit

It’s a shame that Sam Harris is only in town for two late shows (his second is tonight, Saturday, May 9) at the Rrazz Room. He deserves a much longer run, but he’s got a year-old baby and a busy career developing sitcoms and getting ready to star in a Broadway-bound musical (The First Wives Club). We’ll take what we can get.

Harris is as much a comedian as he is a singer. He compared the Rrazz Room to his own living room and said of his boyfriend (now husband) of 14 years, Danny Jacobsen, that they have been five of the best years of his life, not consecutive. “When we got married I didn’t know what true love was. And now it’s too late.” Bad dum bum.

Even though the late show was “so past my bedtime – I’m serious” Harris and his extraordinary pianist/musical director Todd Schroeder put on a remarkably good and varied show, which opened with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for,” given the full gospel treatment, merged with Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” re-written with lyric references to Harris’ career, his sobriety, his family, etc. It might be noted that Cher opened her interminable farewell tour with “I Still Haven’t Found…” but that didn’t even seem like the same song Harris sang.

With his big voice, crazy range and complete comfort on stage, Harris was a delight from beginning to end, whether he was chiding Rrazz management for not providing him with a towel (he borrowed one from a gentleman in the front row who just happened to have his gym bag – ah, San Francisco!) or forgetting the lyrics to his intensely emotional version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Song choices were all over the place, from Harold Arlen’s 1930s ode to ganja in “The Wail of the Reefer Man” to the James Taylor-Carly Simon version of “Mockingbird” song full throttle with Schroeder to a moving version of Maury Yeston’s tender “New Words.” Harris was practically a one-man Broadway show on the amped-up “Ain’t We Got Fun,” an aggressively cynical take on the Depression-happy tune, which Schroeder pounded through with bravura ferocity.

A gimmick purporting to take audience suggestions for show tunes resulted in an aborted “Ease on Down the Road” and a full-throttle “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and a jazzy “My Favorite Things.”

Harris pulled out all the vocal/emotional stops on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Over the Rainbow” before closing the show with a gentle “In My Life.”

It seemed we were just getting going when the show was over, leaving us wanting more, which is always a good thing.

Keep up with Harris, his calendar, his projects and his video blogs at



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: