BootLeg Betty

Catching Up With Linda Hart!

Gospel show ‘Praise’ will array talents of showbiz veterans
23 March 2009
by Jerry Fink
By Our Partners at the Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Las Vegas might not seem the most likely place to premiere a production featuring gospel music. But Grammy Award winner Larry Hart sees no conflict between the Lord and Sin City.

Hart, a Las Vegas resident who grew up in the gospel world, brings “Praise” to South Point on Sunday.

“It’s not a Jesus show in the traditional sense, even though that’s where my roots are,” Hart says. “It’s about getting your God on, regardless of what you believe. It’s about celebrating whatever you believe.”

He wrote all of the songs in “Praise,” and they touch on most major religions.

“There are some funny moments, like when a country singer sings a song called ‘Big Hair Gets You Closer to God,’?” he says. “The show is lighthearted, not preachy.

“It’s a collection of songs, each song telling its own story. There are six women in the show with me portraying characters, in a theatrical sense, and telling these stories.”

Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes, will be a special guest.

The cast also includes his sister, Linda Hart, who’s probably best known as the first Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray” on Broadway. She is versatile, singing with Bette Midler and the New Christy Minstrels and appearing on television (from “The Dukes of Hazzard” to “Desperate Housewives”) and in films (“Tin Cup,” “Get Shorty”).

The Harts were born into show business.

The family’s gospel group, the Harts, toured the country and had its own TV show. The Harts recorded 25 gospel, two country and two pop albums and sold more than 10 million copies.

Larry Hart began singing at age 2 and recorded his first song with the family at 4. Hart received a Grammy nomination when he was 16 and won the Grammy for gospel performance for “What a Friend” when he was 19.

He was 9 when he, sister Linda and mother Toni were signed by Johnny Cash as songwriters. Larry Hart continued to write songs for artists from Kenny Rogers to Ozzy Osbourne, and his songs have sold a reported 30 million copies.

Hart hit it big with his second musical, the Cinderella-based “Sisterella.” It received heavyweight backing from Michael Jackson, Robert De Niro, Miramax and Walt Disney. “Sisterella” toured Europe, breaking box office records and being voted “Show of the Decade” by fans. Hart has directed and starred in all productions of “Sisterella.”

He also was second composer on the Broadway musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and wrote the book, music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning foreign film “Cinema Paradiso.”

Hart has been working on “Praise” for four years.

“We’ve been doing workshops along the way. We’re now at the point where we’re ready to put it onstage for people to see,” he says.

The Vegas show, produced by Griffin Productions Group, won’t have sequined angels or a Godlike Elvis, but the costumes will include gowns by Prada, Versace, Bob Mackie and Yves Saint Laurent. The vocals will be live, but the music is prerecorded — arranged, produced and performed by Hart.

He intends to perform the show in Hawaii and across the country this year with an eye toward a tour in early 2010.

But he hopes to find a permanent Vegas home for the show.

“I would love to see it here as a gospel brunch,” Hart says. “The House of Blues has been very successful with its gospel brunch two performances on Sunday here and at the House of Blues in New York and L.A. I think this offers an alternative to that. This is something truly staged and produced and not just people showing up to sing out a few gospel songs.”

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