Singin' on the streets proves
to be launch pad for Gershwin musical star
By Joseph Sheppard
February 15, 2006 | When she was 12, Jessica Harris'
parents would send her to earn money by singing on the
streets of Santa Monica, Calif. Now, she says, she wouldn't
have grown up any other way.
The 26-year-old music therapy student at Utah State
University says she loved street performing when she
was a kid. Harris said she and her brothers and sisters
would perform on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
When there were five of them singing, people would
call them the White Jackson Five; when there were seven
of them, they were the Von Trapp Family Singers, she
"We did doo-wop, jazz, gospel, '50s tunes, and barbershop,"
Harris said. "The street would be lined with performers
and we had to do everything a capella, so we would just
snap and sing. It was a lot of fun," Harris said.
Harris now appears at a different venue, the Ellen
Eccles Theater, where she plays the female lead Polly
Baker in the upcoming musical "Crazy for You. "Crazy
for You" is a remake of the old Gershwin musical "Girl
Crazy" adapted to include some of Gershwin's best known
tunes, "I've Got Rhythm, "Embraceable You," "They Can't
Take That Away from Me" and "Someone to Watch Over Me.
"I had never seen the play before I was cast, but
I had grown up with Gershwin and it has always been
my dream to sing all those tunes," Harris said.
Harris' character, Polly Baker, is the only woman
left in the belly-up mining town Deadrock, Nev. She
is determined to prevent the small town's theater from
being closed down by eastern owner Bobby Child. When
Child comes to town to close the theater, he falls in
love with Polly. She hates him when she discovers who
he is and the story develops from there.
Harris said Polly Baker is a pretty strong-willed,
spunky girl that people know not to mess with. She said
it does not take much acting on her part to play the
"I really don't consider myself much of an actress
and I don't have to be in this role. I'm already a short
spunky girl from Idaho with a hick accent," Harris said.
"Crazy for You" has a larger cast than a lot of Eccles
shows, Harris said. It has a lot of action, choreography,
and a twisty plot- it's definitely not slow-moving,
she said. A lot of people are used to going to the Eccles
for shows like "Les Miserables" and "South Pacific,"
but "Crazy" has a different sound than normal "proud
and tall" musicals, she said. It's "back-in-our-throats
singing, like country hicks," Harris said.
For Harris, music is more than a hobby. She says she
hopes to help families and youth by practicing music
"As a performer I've seen music connect to my whole
soul, my mind, my emotions, and everything about me,"
Harris said she wants to use the power of music in
a therapeutic setting. She plans to get her master's
in marriage and family counseling, she said. Her dream
job would probably be to work as a therapist in a youth
correctional facility, she said.
Outside of her performances at the Ellen Eccles Theater,
Harris can be heard as the vocalist of the jazz combo,
Topazz. Harris said she is absolutely passionate about
jazz, and that she loves the chemistry that exists between
the performers. Any piece of music can be put in front
of them, without having ever seen it before, and they
can play it.
"You just feel it and you do it. You don't have to
follow the paper, that's one of the things I love about
jazz," Harris said.
The "nice little jazz combo" has played at wedding
receptions, the opening of the campus art museum, and
at Elite Hall where they recently were part of the Big
Harlem Nights Festival, Harris said.
Jessica Harris can also be seen and heard at "Crazy
for You," showing from February 17 to the 25 at the
Ellen Eccles Theater in Logan. She's come a long way
since singing at Third Street in Santa Monica.