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Harry Connick, Jr.: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 27; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $162-$207 concert, gala sold out; 941-263-6799; vanwezel.org
The headliner for this year's Van Wezel Foundation Inspiration Gala is a star not just on live music stages, but also on movie and television screens and on Broadway.
Singer and actor Harry Connick, Jr. will perform at Sarasota's Van Wezel on Jan. 27. A three-time Grammy-winning musician, including for his double-platinum soundtrack for the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally...," Connick has also appeared in movies such as the Pinellas County-set and shot "Dolphin Tale" films, TV shows like "Will & Grace" and Broadway productions including his Tony-nominated role in "The Pajama Game."
Connick earned his latest Grammy nomination for Best Roots Gospel Album for 2021's "Alone with My Faith," a collection of traditional hymns and originals he recorded himself during the pandemic. He also recently co-starred in NBC's "Annie Live!," a live production of the classic musical, playing the character of Daddy Warbucks.
In a December phone interview with the Herald-Tribune, Connick discussed "Alone with My Faith," "Annie Live!," "Dolphin Tale" and more. Here are excerpts.
"Alone with My Faith" is your first gospel album, and also an album that you recorded yourself. Were those things you had always wanted to do, or did they arise as a result of the pandemic?
I’ve recorded these types of songs before and I’ve performed them a lot, and I always wanted to do an album of songs like this. Then when the pandemic happened, I found myself in March of 2020 sitting at home like most people, looking into an uncertain future. So I started to think about my faith, the uncertainty, some people I knew had become sick and some had passed away. As everyone can attest to, it was just really a very strange, difficult time. I started to record some of these songs like, you know what, let me put down some of these songs that I’ve thought about, and I started writing some of them. Because we were in lockdown, I couldn’t go to a studio, I couldn’t have anybody over, so I just recorded them myself. One song led to two, and that led to a few more. Before I knew it, I was pointed in the direction of an entire album of songs that sort of span the spectrum of my personal faith, which was everything from “We’re going to be alright” to “What the hell is happening right now?"
About when did you return to performing live, and how has that experience been so far?
We went back on the road in August; we were out for about a month. We were really, really adamant about testing because one person tests positive, the whole tour gets canceled. So we tested every day and we wore masks backstage, people in the audience wore masks. It was a little strange because I had never done a show in those types of circumstances, but honestly, it was just like any other tour. We got out there and we played music and had fun. Knock on wood, we got through it, didn’t have to cancel anything. Now we’re going to dip our toe back in the water just for a very short amount of time and we’ll see how it goes.
You have a close relationship with Broadway – just before a few months before the pandemic, you performed the show “A Celebration of Cole Porter.” What were your feelings to see Broadway return, after more than a year of being shut down?
You know, I just did this televised version of “Annie” and one of the lines that Daddy Warbucks, which is my character, says is, “I’m glad to see Broadway back on its feet, in spite of the hard times.” And man, the crowd just erupted into applause, and I feel the same way. It’s just great to see back those people – the people on stage, behind the scenes, the producers, the orchestra members, the ushers, ticket collectors. Obviously there’s a lot of industries that have suffered horrible losses, but Broadway’s one of the ones that was just very difficult on people. I’m just glad to see those people back to work, and I’m glad to see people in the seats that are there to be entertained and maybe get their mind off their troubles for a little while.
As you mentioned, you recently took part in “Annie Live!” What was that experience like? I have to imagine it’s like a combination of performing live on stage and making a film or TV show all at once.
Yeah, that’s what it is. And you know, I’ve been around the block a few times in show business and I’ve never done that, which is a legitimate live theater production but you’ve got all of the stuff that goes with making a TV show, which is hitting very precise marks and commercial breaks. It was live live; if you screw something up, that’s it. I happen to like that environment, and I had a blast. I loved every minute of it.
We’re close here in Sarasota to Pinellas County, where you filmed the “Dolphin Tale” movies. What are your memories of making those movies here and of Winter, who recently passed away?
Yeah, I just love that part of the world. I could easily live down there; I love the Gulf Coast. Clearwater’s just a magical place, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just one of the most unbelievable places I’ve ever seen. A lot of people don’t understand what they do; they think it’s like a place where people go watch animals swim around. But it’s a rehabilitation place with the goal being to get these animals back into the wild, some of which are not able to return like Winter, and it’s about quality of life and education. That was an amazing animal – I got to spend probably six months of my life with her going around her, getting in the water, feeding her. It was miraculous, really. I love being down there, I love the people down there. It’s kind of like a home away from home.
Winter the dolphin: Beloved star of ‘Dolphin Tale’ films dies at 16 at Clearwater aquarium
Also during the pandemic, you hosted the CBS special "United We Sing: A Grammy Tribute to the Unsung Heroes," where you and your daughter Georgia traveled the country thanking essential workers with the help of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey. What was that experience like?
Well, we love road trips anyway; I like to drive around with my family. My wife isn’t as big a fan as I am, so it’s usually me and the girls. I guess it’s because I’ve been on the road for so long. A couple months into the pandemic, Georgia – who’s a director, a photographer, a videographer, editor and all that – said let’s go make a documentary and showcase some of these amazing men and women who are putting their lives at risk for the rest of us.
I pitched it to CBS and I said, “Do you want to follow us around?” and they said yeah. So I called up some of my celebrity friends and said, “Do you all want to say thanks via iPad to these folks who are working in hospitals or what have you?” It just kind of turned into me and Georgia in a RV driving across the country thanking people, which was what we wanted to do. It was awesome; I loved every minute of that.
Email entertainment reporter Jimmy Geurts at email@example.com. Support local journalism by subscribing.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Interview: Harry Connick, Jr. on new album, "Dolphin Tale" before Sarasota show