1. How has your experience been working at The Playhouse?
I love The Pasadena Playhouse. I think the first time I ever performed here, I was about 24 years old, and I fell in love with it then. So I love the history of it, I love the look of it—it reminds me of a New York house.
One of the things that’s great about working at The Pasadena Playhouse is the people. I mean really, that makes or breaks any place that you play, and this is the most extraordinary staff and crew I know—Sheldon Epps, who’s brilliant, I know Patty Onagan who does the publicity, I know Joe Witt. It’s just a great group of top-notch people, and so it’s a pleasure to work here.
2. How has your start on “Star Search” opened doors for you and your show business journey?
You know, the thing about that kind of television exposure, we talk about this in the show a little bit, is that in the days of “Star Search,” was pre-“American Idol,” pre-“The Voice,” pre-“America’s Got Talent,” pre-all that stuff—there weren’t all these cable outlets. So it was less channels, and larger audiences. So the last numbers that these shows like “The Voice” are getting, like 25 million people for their finales, are what we had every week. So it was a tremendous amount of exposure—which is life-changing. You can’t buy that kind of platform. So it was for me. I was a kid, I was 24 years old; I went from total obscurity to touring and making records and doing tons of television and going all over the world—different music festivals and making albums. So it was a huge change and a huge launch.
And then my career went to doing Broadway, and more touring, and touring Broadway shows, and then I’ve directed, became an author, and now the book has become a play. I do believe because I was so driven and ambitious, and loved to do so many things, if it hadn’t been “Star Search,” I do believe it would have come a different way, perhaps through New York. But, man oh man, it was a great way to kick it off.
3. How has fatherhood impacted you and your career?
Becoming a dad is the most important thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most important experience I’ve ever had. It has given me a perspective that I didn’t have. I’ve always been a very passionate person, but I don’t think until I had a child, like as much as I thought I had loved, I didn’t know what love was—the depth of it—until I had a kid. It’s beyond. Like the first minute you see them you don’t even know this child yet and it’s already like I WOULD GIVE MY LIFE FOR YOU. It is so large. It’s definitely affected my work, it’s affected my person certainly—about being my best person. But it’s also affected my art and my work. I used to have anxiety about working, I mean I still get very nervous, but I used to have anxiety about working. And somehow when a child is your priority, the work becomes what you do rather than what you are. My value is as a husband and as a father, and the work has gotten better because of that.
4. Can you tell us about the time Oprah called you after Sept. 11 to come on her show to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”?
I was living in New York, and I moved from New York to Los Angeles on Sept. 10. The next day the world fell apart. And I was in an empty house, the furniture hadn’t arrived and wouldn’t arrive for some time because of everything that had happened after. I felt so alone and helpless like I had abandoned my house on fire. My friends, my life were there; I lived in New York for a long time. And I couldn’t find a community for myself yet, I was just really off the plane. And about four or five days later I got this call from Oprah Winfrey saying she was doing a show called, “Music to Heal Our Hearts.” She felt it was time that we grieve together and move on together. So, of course I said yes. And then I got on the first plane that I hadn’t been on since, which was really scary. But then everything kind of turned into a huge healing experience, the way we rehearsed, with her and her baseball cap and sweatpants saying, “Do you know this song? Do you know that song? Let’s try putting this thing together.” Todd was there, he was amazing. We were going to dinner at her house the night before for this sort of communal thing. It was me and several other Gospel singers, I was the only white boy—which was a thrill! But she trusted me to sing this sort of Gospel-ish music.
Anyway, so the actual experience was actually difficult to perform. It was so emotional and so moving, like I didn’t know if I was going to quite get through it. First I did a song called “Precious Lord,” which is a song that Oprah wanted, it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite song. So she was like, “Would you like to look at the song?” and I said, “Sure.”… And this song, *sings* “Precious Looord, Take my hand, Lead me On, Please help me stand. I’m so tired, I’m so weak, I’m so worn.”
So it was about this grief and then it went into “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which is you know, from Carousel, and we did it in this 6/8 Gospel feeling—never walk alone! And it was very healing for me, and then Oprah asked if I wanted to fly back on a private plane with her to Los Angeles. She said, “Do you want to come with me?” And I said, “You guys already got us tickets and stuff like that.” And she goes, “No, with me on my plane.” I’m like, “OF COURSE I DO!” So that was beautiful. I heard Oprah never watches her own shows after, but there was an immediate tape made after this and we watched the show twice because we needed it.
And it was an extraordinary, extraordinary experience in a very, very difficult time.
Read Sam’s cover story in this week’s Pasadena Weekly.