When Harry Connick, Jr. was growing up in New Orleans, Broadway music was the crawfish in the musical gumbo of his influences.
He just didn't realize it at the time. Son of a onetime record store owner, Connick grew up listening to the jazz that was coming from clubs on every corner.
"There was so much accessibility to live music in New Orleans," he says. "A lot of the repertoire jazz musicians have played has been show tunes."
A singer following in the steps of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Connick is back on Broadway this summer, hosting the limited-run Harry Connick, Jr. in Concert On Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. He made his first Broadway appearance in a similar concert show in 1990, and earned Tony nominations for his performance as Sid Sorokin in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game, and as a composer of the 2001 musical Thou Shalt Not. Many young Broadway fans get their first taste of show music through cast albums. But young Harry entered the world of Broadway through another door.
"A lot of these tunes I learned for the first time from jazz musicians. Any musician from Miles Davis to John Coltrane to Bill Evans to Art Tatum and Ella Fitzgerald — they all played these songs at one point in time or another. It was only later that I came to realize that songs like 'Whatever Lola Wants' was from a show, Damn Yankees. It's cool how you can go about discovering that stuff."
The summer engagement constitutes the New York stop on a multi-city tour supporting his new album, "Your Songs."
"We'll make it special and add some surprises for the Broadway house because it is Broadway. You're not just playing some venue. It demands some individuality."
"Your Songs" includes the show tune "Some Enchanted Evening" and the rarely-heard Bricusse & Newley song "Who Can I Turn To?" from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd. "It's just such a perfect piece of music."
Nevertheless, Connick says he might not sing it every night. "I could sing 'Mona Lisa' or 'The Way You Look Tonight,' or some of the songs I wrote like 'We Are in Love.' We're just going to keep mixing it up and changing it."
The brief run of Thou Shalt Not and the backstage disagreements that led to Connick withdrawing from the planned Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It have not soured him on Broadway. His holiday musical, The Happy Elf, directed by John Rando, was made into a TV special, and has been workshopped regionally twice. "At some point we'd like to bring it to Broadway," Connick says. "It's a long process."
Connick revealed that he's also collaborating with former Public Theater boss George C. Wolfe on an original musical. There is no title yet, and the subject matter is still under wraps, but, he says, "it's slowly taking shape."
Part of the attraction of returning to Broadway came from the fun he had working on The Pajama Game with co-star Kelli O'Hara. "There were so many times when we just sat and laughed and had fun — the whole crew and cast. On April Fool's Day I pretended I was sick and she didn't fall for it." She got him back, however. "There was a scene when I had to push her off-stage on a rolling cart. She fell off the cart and said she busted her ankle and it was questionable whether she would be returning for the second act. It was horrible, until I realized she was just fooling with me."
No hard feelings, obviously; the two reunited in New York last month for a salute to composer Frank Loesser.
Connick says he has a message for the folks sitting in the audience reading their Playbills: "Let 'em know what an honor it is for me to be on Broadway again. I hope they have the time of their lives."