With Todd Schroeder
Directed by Billy Porter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Despite every possible obstacle – including a dispassionate and disinterested father and growing up in an oppressive and homophobic environment – Sam Harris has maintained an astonishing professional career in music, television, stage, and screen. His recent book “Ham: Slices of a Life” chronicles that story of success and is the subject of Mr. Harris’s current “Ham: A Musical Memoir” running at Theater 511 at Ars Nova through January 25, 2015.
Self-described as “stories interspersed with songs,” “Ham” the liter-usical gives Mr. Harris the opportunity to share his life’s stories and showcase much of his musical canon. Sam Harris has a rich, multi-layered voice which he uses to skillfully interpret the music he chooses to sing. His phrasing is inventive and engaging as is his persona.
Songs that stand out in the performance are “Ham” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder). “Colored Town” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder), “God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.), “I Shall Be Released” (Bob Dylan), “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg), and “Broken Wing” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder). Musical director and accompanist Todd Schroeder is a performance powerhouse and the synergy between Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Harris is often spellbinding.
Perhaps the more traditional approach, “songs interspersed with stories,” would have served Mr. Harris better. The liter-usical format allows Sam Harris to sing only a part of most of the songs in the show’s list. It might have been more engaging to hear a smaller number of songs sung in full interrupted by Mr. Harris’s story. The journey of a gay man, or in fact of any disenfranchised person, to self-discovery and acceptance and self-empowerment is equally empowering to the audience and the story of Sam Harris from childhood through a challenging adolescence to fatherhood is no exception and deserves a visit before January 24, 2015.