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Ham A Musical Memoir

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For those of us who have been around Los Angeles long enough, Sam Harris exploded onto our radar when he sang in a variety of small venues in the early 80’s. The voice, the style, and the theatricality were already in evidence.

The rest of America had to wait another year or two for the initial season of Star Search to bring him wider attention. I don’t think it’s overstating the fact to say that network television had never seen anything quite like Sam Harris, and he became the show’s first winner.

After 30-plus years as a recording artist, Broadway performer, and writer, Harris has brought HAM A Musical Memoir to Los Angeles for an all-too-brief run at the Renberg Theatre. Based on his similarly titled autobiographical book, HAM is a brisk and endearingly self-deprecating survey of Harris’ life, filled with enough music to prove that the years haven’t diminished his voice, though they have increased his power to directly communicate to his audience.

Breezily co-directed by Billy Porter and Ken Sawyer, Harris recreates seminal moments from his boyhood in Oklahoma: his yellowface debut performance in a community theater production of South Pacific; his disappointment when the same theater refused to audition him for the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (Harris was always a little ahead of the curve); and, most importantly, for his musical style, his introduction to Gospel Music at the local church.

Harris doesn’t ignore the painful memories. Always an outsider, he describes a growing understanding of his sexuality as well as an interrupted suicide attempt. He also credits a compassionate high school teacher for bringing him some measure of peace and acceptance.

Harris’ Hollywood adventures are narrated by an older mentor who does his best to take some of the rough edges off the energetic Oklahoma boy. The Star Search experience comes fast and furious, as does his fame. Harris spends little time detailing his post Star Search career (no doubt the book covers it in greater detail), but he does slow down and end his show on a note of satisfied domesticity—a quiet conversation with his 7-year-old son.

Musical Director, Todd Schroeder has a nearly quarter-century history with Harris, and it shows in their easy camaraderie and the way Schroeder is alert to every nuance of Harris’ performance.

Renberg Theatre   January 23 – February 7, 2016    lalgbtceneter.org/theatre

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.