One of America’s first reality stars taps his way through five decades of life on stage filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Harris is best known to most readers as the first winner of Star Search and/or Liza Minnelli’s BFF, depending on whom you ask. It turns out that the pop singer has the writing chops to tell a good tale, but be prepared for a slew of name-dropping: “I lunched with Lucille Ball! I shared a dressing room with Al Green and improvised with him! I discussed playwriting backstage with Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner! I was just about adopted by Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera! I was given song ideas from Bette Midler!” And that’s just half of that paragraph. Two stories about Minnelli are more revealing about the author than the superstar. In “Promises,” Harris examines how he helped her recover from her ill-advised marriage to “The Man Whose Name Shall Go Unmentioned.” Far less whimsical is “I Know, Baby. I Know,” in which Harris plumbs the depths of his own alcoholism during a visit to Minnelli in rehab. Another, “Comfort Food,” elegantly crosses the terror of 9/11 with the author’s appearance on Oprah. When the stories leave behind the lights of Broadway, most can be very touching, as Harris recounts stories of growing up gay in rural America, the story of meeting his longtime partner, the perils of modern-day parenthood, and the tale of his childhood home burning down not once, but twice in “Drilling Without Novacaine.” There’s melancholy aplenty, but most of the stories are uplifted by Harris’ quirky sense of humor. In the cringe-inducing “I Feel, You Feel,” the author is virtually abandoned on stage by a noticeably overdue Aretha Franklin. A standout is the navel-gazing meditation “Liver,” an examination of blind optimism that ends well: “In the end, I would rather be bruised than cynical, trusting than suspicious, disappointed than apathetic.”
Entertaining and occasionally moving tales from the wilds of showbiz.