Sam Harris, a versatile Broadway belter with a winning presence and sunny personality, has brought a varied bag of songs to Arci’s Place. The singer has a decided flair for show tunes, but his repertoire runs the gamut from familiar theater pieces to a few soul flavored contemporary songs by Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper and John Lennon.
Nominated for a 1997 Tony for his performance as a manipulative con man in Cy Coleman’s “The Life,” Harris, while gifted with a great range and big lungs, has a tendency to push too hard at times, bringing an often shrill clarion call to a song’s dramatic crescendo. When not over-stylized and overwrought, the singer settles down to crooning, and he is decidedly more appealing and passionately persuasive.
Harris inserts some broad standup comedy, including an overlong ode to the theater that concludes with an actor’s endless self-aggrandizing bio as read from the pages of a program. Anticipating his forthcoming move to L.A., the actor reads items from the wrinkled newspaper pages he is using to wrap wine glasses while packing. News clips noting a celeb psychic has been sued for consumer fraud and some Bush bashing regarding controversial environmental issues garnered a few aud chuckles, but it was a decidedly awkward detour from his song fest.
Harris turns Sondheim’s “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from its original femme perspective in “Company,” adding his own lyrics for a playful manic confessional, and sings Coleman’s “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” with a vivid wandering and restless intensity. A Harold Arlen medley of “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” and “Stormy Weather” revealed the bluesy emotional fiber of the classic torch songs.
Harris winds up with some saloon songs. He adds a vaudevillian Jolson edge to Johnny Mercer’s “I Wanna Be Around” and boozy melancholy to “Drinking Again,” winding up with the Arthur Schwartz loser’s exit, “(I’ll Go My Way) By Myself.” Restrained and less affected, Harris offered a warm and subtle farewell medley.
The barroom piano tinkling by Steve Marzullo is smoothly supportive, as is his adventurous approach to big bold show tunes.