Long before Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken became best friends, before Kelly met Justin (and made that awful movie) and American Idol even became a concept — almost 40 years ago, believe it or not, in 1983 — the most talked about talent competition on television, Star Search, a syndicated weekly series that features singers, dancers, stand-up comedians, actors and “spokesmodels” (that word wasn’t even part of American slang until the show debuted) ran around the Right to be declared the best of the best in their field.
There is perhaps no one better known for his work on Star Search than the multi-talented, Tony Award-nominated star of stage, film and television: sam harris The mere mention of his name can evoke fond memories from his loyal and longtime fans of his performances on Star Search (where he won 13 consecutive weeks of top honors in the first season), an era that became his interpretation of “Over the Rainbow”. the stuff of entertainment legends.
Thanks to the successful and ongoing partnership of Studio Tenn and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Sam Harris returns to Nashville this Saturday night for an evening of Cabaret On Stage, kicking off the second season of such performances on stage at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall.
For Harris, performing in Nashville is a homecoming of sorts — for it was Music City he moved to at the age of 15 to take the stages of Opryland USA, perhaps the world’s most well-known musical theme park and fertile breeding ground for some the most successful stars in the industry. At this tender age, his parents allowed Sam to drop out of school to pursue his dream of becoming a star (he’s been performing since he was three, after all) and showcasing his huge talent in performances by I Hear America sings at Opryland USA.
His experience at Opryland prepared him for whatever was to come in his career — Star Search, Broadway, taping, movies, one-man shows, you name it, he made it — and he names the friends he’s made throughout of his Opryland days, still his “family.”
“I had the best time at Opryland,” he recalls. “And I learned so much during my time there.”
And while he admits his parents made the difficult decision to let him come to Nashville alone to pursue his dreams, he said they were used to having a precociously talented son who knew exactly what he was doing wanted to achieve life.
“They knew I had to do it,” he suggests. “But now I look at my 14-year-old son, who can’t even boil an egg, and I’m like, ‘What the hell were my parents thinking?'”
However, this realization brings back a different memory: “When I was seven years old, my father was the director of a high school band and my whole family went on a band tour. We had never been on vacation before, so it was a really big deal. But I was taking an acting class in Tulsa, which is the closest major city to my little hometown, and we had a performance that same week.
“Yep, my 15-minute play Stone Soup was scheduled to play on a conflict day with this bad trip, but my parents had the wisdom to ask me what I wanted to do? I chose the piece of course, so my grandmother came to stay with me while the rest of the family went on the band trip!”
For seven-year-old Sam, the answer was as simple as it is for now-year-old Harris: “I loved performing so much,” he says. “I am so blessed. I first showed interest when I was two or three years old – I actually sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ when I was three – so I definitely had that early on and by the time I was a year old, I made the mistake a few years older I made it making up my own stories and putting on shows in the living room.”
With a lifelong passion for entertaining audiences, what can one expect from Saturday night’s performance at Cabaret On Stage? One thing is certain: Sam Harris will be at his best.
“This is one of my favorite shows I’ve done in years,” he promises during a wide-ranging phone interview from his home in California. “It’s pretty eclectic: Broadway, pop, monologues — some really beautiful and subtle things, along with some big showstoppers. It really encompasses a range of music.”
The beauty of his new show, in which he will be joined by Music Director John McDaniel, stems from the shared experience of returning to the performance space after the long and arduous stay caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“Since we’ve all been allowed to leave our homes again as we can open up again, there’s this amazing feeling and healing when people put themselves in a space and have a shared experience,” says Harris. “Being together again, laughing and crying is so exciting and joyful and touchable. It’s like people have gone insane and so happy to have a common goal again – to be entertained.”
“I always have the best time when I’m on stage,” he claims. “But now it’s just special. When I set out to create a show, it’s a carefully crafted evening of theater and when you do it in a small venue you can’t fake it. It’s going to be a really personal, intimate experience.”
About Sam Harris
Sam Harris’ diverse career spans from singer-songwriter to actor on Broadway, film and television, writer, director, producer and writer. After drawing a weekly audience of more than 25 million viewers on Star Search in its premiere season, Sam and his powerful pop, gospel and theater influenced singing have never looked back. Jimmy Fallon called his performance of “Over the Rainbow… one of the greatest performances ever shown on television. AT ALL!”
Sam is a multi-platinum recording artist with 9 studio CDs to his credit. Rolling Stone Magazine listed him as one of the “Top 100 Greatest Vocalists of All Time”.
On Broadway, Sam received a Tony, Outer Critic’s Circle and Drama Desk nomination for his work in Cy Coleman’s The Life, a Drama League Award and Drama Desk nomination for his role in Tommy Tunes Grease, and appeared in Mel Brooks’ The Producers on Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hair, Pippin and The Jazz Singer. His autobiographical show HAM: A Musical Memoir (directed by Billy Porter) played Off-Broadway and in Los Angeles, and won LA’s prestigious Ovation Awards for Best Musical, as well as Best Actor and Musical Direction for its longtime musical director . Todd Schroeder. HAM was filmed for TV and can be seen on all major streaming channels. Time Magazine called it “one of the most powerful, moving and relevant live show films of the year”.
Sam has toured extensively, playing to sold out audiences everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Boston Pops. He performed with Cyndi Lauper on her True Colors tour. He and Liza Minnelli performed their duo show Schmoolie and Minnooli in a limited, sold-out run in New York. Sam has appeared at the White House, numerous television specials and live productions, and has been a guest artist on virtually every talk show, his favorite show at a historic time when he performed a rousing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on the Oprah Winfrey Show the week after the September 11, 2001. Sam was a regular on the CBS sitcom The Class, won the People’s Choice Award and has guest-starred on numerous shows. He hosted his own segment on the Extra TV show called Six Degrees of Sam.
Behind the scenes, Sam co-wrote the TBS sitcom Down to Earth, co-produced and directed the TV special Love Letter to New York, supervised and directed segments of Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden and was co-author of “Liza”. At The Palace for Liza Minnelli, who won the Tony Award. He created and directed the concert event New York’s Finest – Broadway’s Leading Men and has directed numerous multi-star events featuring Broadway and recording luminaries.
Sam wrote the bestselling book HAM: Slices of a Life, which formed the basis of the hit series. His new novel, this time literary fiction, entitled The Substance of All Things, has received rave reviews from all major book publications and is in development for a limited series.
About cabaret on stage
Studio Tenn Theater Company and Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) present the return of their popular play cabaret On stage Four intimate evening series on TPAC’s Jackson Hall stage featuring legendary performers including the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth (Schmigadoon!, Evil); Emmy-winning actress and recording artist Liz Callaway (Brightly we roll along, baby); with Broadway, television and film actors Jason Graae (Falsettos, Wicked); award-winning actor and multi-platinum recording artist sam harris (The Life, The Producers); and four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuehn (Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables), who sang the title role in Disney’s Pocahontas.
Tickets are available at www.tpac.orgby phone at (615) 782-4040 and in person at the TPAC Box Office at 505 Deaderick St. in downtown Nashville.
Harris and Kuhn will be joined by John McDaniel, a Grammy and Emmy award-winning music director, composer, director, arranger and producer, who will serve as musical director and emcee. Callaway and Graae are joined by pianist Alex Rybeck, an award-winning composer, arranger and musical director known for his work on Broadway (Damn Yankees, Merrily We Roll Along), concerts, cabaret and recording. Chenoweth will be joined by musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, a conductor, composer and music director of many Broadway shows (Mean Girls, The Prom).
July 2, 2022 – An intimate evening with sam harrisWith John McDaniel as emcee and musical director
August 20, 2022 – An intimate evening with Liz Callaway and Jason GraaeWith Alexander Rybeck
September 10, 2022 – An intimate evening with Kristin ChenowethWith Mary Mitchell Campbell
October 15, 2022 – An intimate evening with Judy Kuehn With John McDaniel