Out performer James Harkness is one of the many performers in Cabaret ZaZou's Luminaire, the latest project from the creative team behind the successful show Teatro ZinZanni.
Currently in an open run since Sept. 7, 2022, Luminaire is housed under the Spiegeltent at 32 W. Randolph Street. The show is directed by Dreya Weber, the immersive show stars Frank Ferrante and Liv Warfield as a comedic and melodic dream team who lead the audience through a series of acrobatic acts and crowd interactions during a multi course-meal by Blue Plate.
Luminaire is just the latest in many onstage roles for Harkness. In 2018, he starred in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations as well as many other musicals such as Aida, The Color Purple and A Chorus Line, where he was the first Black man to portray the role of Zach.
During his day off Harkness met up with Windy City Times to discuss his background and his journey to the Luminaire tent.
Windy City Times: You grew up in Texas?
James Harkness: Yes, El Paso, Texas. My family still lives in Texas and my mom lives in the house I grew up in. I left Texas after high school to join the navy in the military.
WCT: Have you seen a new movie called The Inspection?
JH: No, but Jeremy Pope is one of my dearest friends. We did Ain't Too Proud together. I played Paul Williams and he played Eddie Kendricks. The two grew up together and were the best of friends, so we got to know each other very well. I worked on it from the inception of the first reading until the end of 2022.
WCT: Did you always want to be a performer?
JH: I dreamt about it but I didn't pursue it. I danced because I loved to dance and sang because I enjoyed singing. When I eventually started studying it in school, my whole life shifted. I loved being a part of the community and that has carried me throughout this business.
I had a moment where I had a choice between a secular job and going to auditions. I auditioned for Michael Jackson's tour as a dancer for two days and had to quit my day job. Although I didn't get that particular job, it was the moment that I decided this was something I could do. That led me to book a tour with Puerto Rican singer Chayanne and how I first got into this life of show business.
WCT: How did you become involved with Cabaret ZaZou's Luminaire?
JH: In 2019, I played at the Apollo Theater in honor of Otis Williams, who is the last remaining member of The Temptations. I was asked to perform "For Once in My Life" and I saw Liv Warfield sing at the event. I met her after the show and we stayed in touch after that on social media.
Dreya Weber was slated to direct Luminaire and she had worked with Liv on Teatro ZinZanni. Dreya asked Liv who she would like to work with, and Liv said me. That still means so much to me and I get to now work with her every day.
WCT: What is your favorite moment in Luminaire?
JH: My duet with Liv where we sing "Smokin' Out the Window," which I thought I would never sing, because it is Bruno Mars who has a different range than myself. The chemistry Liv and I have together is fascinatingly beautiful.
WCT: How do you take care of your voice?
JH: I sleep a lot and when I don't have to talk, I try not to. I drink ginger tea with honey.
Yesterday was a tough day when my voice was feeling super dry. ACT has a moisturizing gum and I tried it for my second show. It really helped.
WCT: What would you like to tell people who haven't seen Luminaire yet about the show?
JH: It is a fully immersive experience and there is something for everyone in this show. We have some of the top cirque performers in the world in it. The songs range from 1930 to 2022, and are done seamlessly by our band, which is led by Chuck Webb.
The show is funny, touching and will make you think. There is a message of love, acceptance and forgiveness that is woven throughout it. It transports people to a different world right after they get off the elevator and enter the tent.
My friends from The Lion King came recently and told me it fed them emotionally as well as in their stomachs. That really said something to me and was just lovely to hear.
WCT: Talk about being an out and proud performer.
JH: I have been out since my early twenties. I am not secretive about my sexuality at all, but I am also not loud about it. I am just me.
I am grateful to be in the arts and have a support system. In 2022, there is still such a stigma about being gay. The word gay in the past meant happy and joyful. It still means that within the LGBTQ+ community. There is happiness that exists when we are able to be who we are. When someone describes me as gay it is completely true. I am very happy and living in my truth, so yes, I am gay!
Swing over the Spiegeltent for a gay ol' time that will bring you joy. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com or CabaretZaZou.com for tickets and more information on this outstanding show today.