Based on Tony Award nominee and multi-platinum recording artist Sam Harris’s critically acclaimed book, “Ham: Slices of a Life”, the original stage production (in which Harris plays twelve different characters) was developed and directed by Tony and Emmy-Award winning actor, Billy Porter. HAM ran in New York and Los Angeles, was filmed at The Pasadena Playhouse, and received Ovation Awards for Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Musical Director and was praised by critics.
HAM: A Musical Memoir is the comic and poignant true story of Sam Harris’s life growing up in Oklahoma’s Bible Belt during the 60s and 70s as a sensitive and prodigiously talented kid who dreams of playing Helen Keller at age 5, wishes he was Jewish at 10, finds his voice in the black church at 15, and falls in love with a boy “who looks just like Cary Grant,” followed by a depression that leads to a suicide attempt. Sam flees to Los Angeles where he sings at every dump and dive in town, finally ending up on a new TV show called Star Search (precursor to American Idol) winning the hearts of America. Fame ensues – Broadway, television, albums, Carnegie Hall. But for Sam, less is…less. And more is never enough. After the highs and lows of a life in show business, Sam is finally forced to confront the merciless question: what is enough?
Andrew Putschoegl (STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY’S BIRTHDAY, NERDGASM) now brings the stage to the screen, directing HAM : A MUSICAL MEMOIR – in virtual theaters December 3.
The film will make its theatrical debut on Laemmle’s virtual platform on that date before heading to BroadwayHD, the premiere subscription service for live theater, where it will begin streaming exclusively January 7th, 2021.
Sam Harris, such an inspiring man, and most of us were introduced to him when he was on Star Search. When did you discover Sam?
I’m just slightly too young to have been aware of Sam during the Star Search days, so I first became aware of him in 2014 when he was performing the first iteration of Ham and I had been asked to film a performance for posterity. I was enthralled with his story and his performance, and we struck up a friendship after that. I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with Sam on a number of projects since – we just clicked. He’s the real deal.
Why a film version of HAM : A Musical Memoir? Is that a question for Sam?
While it would be amazing for Sam to be able to do the show around the country or the world, certainly that’s not possible right now, and even in the best of times, he’s one person. I don’t think it would be the same with an understudy, or someone else in his role, so being able to capture his performance and share that with audiences through a filmed version of the show is a fantastic opportunity to bring his story to many more people.
Billy Porter directed the stage version. Did he give you any precise directives for shooting the film?
Billy directed the first version of the show several years ago. This particular version was directed by the incredible Ken Sawyer. He offered a few thoughts about things that he felt were important to capture in a particular way, but otherwise he let me approach this on my own, which I appreciated. He did a remarkable job of directing the stage show, so I just hope we did that justice when we filmed it.
Was it more difficult to film something like this than a standard film?
I don’t know that it was more difficult – it was different. You don’t have the option to really start and stop and re-do a performance when you’re in front of a live audience like this, so it was important to have done my homework to be able to direct the camera crew throughout the performance so they would know exactly what was going to happen next and what angles I needed. There’s something uniquely exciting about shooting a film in only three days — even though of course there were weeks and weeks of prep work done ahead of time.
Do you have a favorite song or moment in the production, yourself?
I have a genuine fondness for all of the music in the show, but A Broken Wing gets me every time, no matter how many times I’ve heard it throughout the process of making the film.
Could you see yourself doing a ‘Mamma Mia’-style film based on Sam’s life?
Ha! Only if Cher promises to do a cover album. 😉
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