Whoever said it's dead in New York during the summer hasn't been to Arci's Place. After the smash success of Donna McKechnie's cabaret act there, the very next entertainer to take stage at the club is the multi-talented and hugely popular Sam Harris. If packed houses every night are any indication, Arci's has clearly become a cabaret destination point regardless of the season. And, right now, Harris is providing every reason for folks to make their way to Park Avenue and 31st Street.
His show is called An Intimate Evening with Sam Harris. Intimate? That's accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn't begin to describe Harris' compelling combination of vocal showmanship, acting chops, and comic skills. Intimacy is what makes this a cabaret show, but Harris' high-octane performance is what makes it unforgettable.
The last time we saw Harris perform a cabaret act was at Joe's Pub and, frankly, we were not impressed; it seemed like he was offering nothing more than vocal pyrotechnics. Well, not this go-round. From pop songs like "Time After Time" (Lauper) to show tunes like "A Cockeyed Optimist" (Rodgers & Hammerstein, from South Pacific), Harris displays a deep commitment to lyrics. Now, when he performs vocal aerobics, his leaps and bounds reveal the heart of each song. And what leaps and bounds! This fellow has a range that the Guinness Book of World Records should look into. At the top end, he's got money notes of a higher denomination than one would think would be allowed by the laws of nature.
Harris achieved early prominence as a Star Search winner in that TV show's first year, but he's come a long way since then. On Broadway alone, he received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance in Grease! and a Drama League Award as well as Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critic's Circle nominations for his performance in Cy Coleman's The Life. He brings musical theater to cabaret when he performs "Drinking Again" (Mercer/Tauber), using the piano for a bar and his gifted pianist/musical director Steve Marzullo for the bartender as he sings in an alcohol- and emotion-soaked voice about the love that has driven him to drink. Next, he moves to morning-after defiance in "By Myself" (Dietz/Schwartz), putting down the microphone and singing with the purity and power of a survivor. It's a truly thrilling performance.
This evening with Sam Harris also offers us a chance to see a different side of him, as he proves to be a very funny guy. We're not talking about musical comedy, although he does put over a delightfully wacky version of "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from Company. Rather, we're referring to a couple of long stretches of patter which suggest that if (God forbid!) Haris ever lost his voice, he could do very well as a standup comic. He set up his first witty bit by explaining that he's moving; as he pretended to wrap wine glasses in newspaper, he happily shared with us headlines that glared at him. But the big news of our intimate evening with Sam Harris is that he's sensational in every aspect of his performance. He can be seen at Arci's Place through August 25.