Star Search grand champion-turned-Tony nominee (for The Life) Sam Harris takes the stage at 54 Below on May 13 in a show solo show. From Sondheim to Jimi Hendrix, this eclectic performer will tackle it all. The Broadway vet will also preview material from his upcoming book HAM: Slices of a Life. Below, Harris walks down memory lane with the songs that inspire him, the performers (past and present) that he loves and his pick for the song of summer 2013.
What record/album was your favorite growing up?
This sounds so freaky, but the first album I every bought was a Billie Holiday collection. I was, I don’t know, eight or nine. She killed me.
What concert most influenced you as a performer?
When I was 10 years old, I saw Liza Minnelli in Liza with a Z on tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I saw Sammy Davis Jr. the same year in the same venue. And then saw Jesus Christ Superstar on tour, also the same year. It was monumental. I already knew what I wanted to do, but it was a trifecta of powerhouse—seeing the real thing—and it changed my life. Now, Liza and I are bestest friends, I got to work with Sammy Davis and I played Jesus to Carl Anderson’s Judas in Superstar, so it came full circle. I’m a lucky guy.
What is your go-to audition song?
I don’t really have one. Because I have an extensive concert repertoire, if I have to sing for something, I try to choose a song that represents the character and point of view.
What song are you most excited to perform in your show?
I haven’t sung “Use What You Got” from The Life in New York since I did it in the show, so I’m excited to sing that.
What musical theater track is the most played on your iPod?
I admit it: I don’t use an iPod! My five-year-old son has an iPod that I’ve filled with an eclectic mix of music from Duke Ellington to Flo Rida to Broadway, but when I have the luxury of quiet, I take it. I live in L.A., so when I’m in the car we switch between pop stations and the Sirius Broadway channel—number 72. My son knows who Seth Rudetsky is.
If you could invite any performer onstage for a duet at 54 Below, who would it be?
You keep asking me to be specific and I can’t! I don’t know...Lady Gaga. From the Broadway world: Patti, Audra, Kristin, Chita, Stephanie, Idina… Liza and I drag each other on stage a lot.
What musical theater performer from the past do you wish you could collaborate with?
Wow. I think of people like Zero Mostel or Bert Lahr or Al Jolson or Ethel Merman or Barbara Harris—the people who really defined their times and whose singular styles still influence us all. Noel Coward. They were such personalities, so singular. Today, I think so many people sound alike. Or worse, try to.
What album was the soundtrack to your 20s?
I was sooo into Tom Waits. His “Blue Valentine” record was my everything.
What’s your favorite love song?
A song by Kevin Fisher called “I Love You More.” I recorded it on my Free CD. It’s the most gorgeous lyric: “I love you more than the brushes of di Vinci loved the Mona Lisa’s smile.” The whole song is like that. Poetic and visual and beautiful.
What song makes you feel sexy?
Anything that makes me forget I don’t get more than five hours of sleep a night and anything that takes me out of the trying to keep up with my work and being a dad. I don’t feel very sexy. But New York always makes me feel sexier. I feel sexier just thinking about it.
Favorite break-up song?
“I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It’s the richest, smartest, most painful, genuine lyric. “Don’t patronize me.” Who says that in a song lyric? Stunning. It’s like a monologue—the realization that a great love cannot be. Kills me. I’m doing it in the 54 show.
What song most makes you smile?
In the world? Well, currently, I love the Maroon 5 song, “Daylight.” I know it’s about having to leave someone the next day, but the song just feels so good—and it makes me want to sing that "whoa whoa" part. So I do. On the other hand, “Have An Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone” will always put a smile on my face. How could it not? I hate that freakin’ “Baby you’re a firework” song. It makes me un-smile. Traditional Broadway songs, the perky ones from obscure musicals, make me happy. I remember once being on a long tour and whenever I would get gloomy, my dresser would put on “Wall Flower” from The Rink and we would laugh and sing and everything would be all right.
When this song plays, I can’t help but dance:
Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.” The whole retro thing is so sexy. It makes me want to dance.
My vote for the song of summer is:
Well, it’s just barely spring, so I have no idea. My favorite pop songs right now are, as mentioned, Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.” Or that other recent Maroon 5 song, “One More Night.” … I just realized all their songs are about the same thing… hmmm. Or you can just play anything from Kinky Boots. That would be great!
Don’t miss Sam Harris at 54 Below on May 13.