RELATIVELY SPEAKING - HACKETT, MILLER & RICHMAN
By Esther Lynn
He’s the son of the late comedian, Buddy Hackett, and she’s the daughter of songwriter Ron Miller. In the case of Sandy Hackett and Lisa Dawn Miller, the apples don’t fall far from the family trees. The two have joined forces, both personally and professionally. Married in April, Sandy and Lisa are awaiting the birth of their first child in February. The newcomer will be welcomed by big brother, five-year-old Oliver. A growing family hasn’t deterred them from putting together their own act. Audiences will be able to see the outcome when the entire team (including cute-as-a-button Oliver Richman) performs together in the Suncoast Showroom from December 23 through 25.
Sandy has been a performer since he was a kid, making his professional debut on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In when he was just 11. He may be best remembered as the youngster whose response to a joke was, "I'm just a kid, but I thought it was funny." When he was 15, he won a statewide public speaking competition in California by performing his father's classic Chinese Waiter routine, a bit that launched the elder Hackett's career. Not long after, Sandy was with his father at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, New York, when the elder Hackett invited his son to perform the bit in front of 3,000 fans. The rest, as they say, is show biz history.
When Sandy was growing up he frequently spent time in Vegas while his father was performing here. "The town was incredible," he says. "I saw all the old entertainers, who would perform cabaret style, getting up on stage to sing and dance and do jokes. I saw the Jackson Five and the Osmonds and every great comedian of the day - my dad, Johnny Carson, Shecky Greene, Flip Wilson. I saw everybody dozens of times."
In 1974, young Hackett moved to Las Vegas to enroll in UNLV's hotel and restaurant management program. He got a job as a trainee at the Sahara where he was a cook's helper, bellman, telephone operator, buffet worker, and an assistant in the employee dining room. He also dealt cards, worked in the counting cage, waited and bused tables, did housekeeping, worked in the showroom, was a pool manager and worked in advertising, public relations and entertainment. "You name it, and I've done it," Hackett says. When he was 28, Sandy began touring with his father, a collaboration that lasted for a decade.
For many years, he was the emcee/host of the famed Sahara Talent Showcase and for eight years also hosted the comedy club at Sam's Town Gold River in Laughlin. These days, Sandy Hackett's Comedy Club is at home in an intimate 70-seat theater located at the Greek Isles (formerly the Paddlewheel and Debbie Reynolds Hotel). That makes it pretty convenient for young Hackett, as the Greek Isles is also where his production (along with partner, Dick Feeney), The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joe & Dean, is now in its fourth year. As if that isn't enough, he and Feeney also co-produce The World's Greatest Magic Show, playing at (surprise) the Greek Isles.
Some films - Hot Dog…The Movie and Cannonball Run II, along with a few yet-to-be- released motion pictures - and television roles on The Fall Guy, The Nanny and Las Vegas, also dot Sandy Hackett's resume. But it is the tribute show that has proven to be his most successful venture to date. The production, inspired and endorsed by comic Joey Bishop, the only surviving member of the Rat Pack (Hackett portrays Bishop in the production), is doing so well that the Las Vegas show has given birth to other companies. The Tribute To Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean now has three versions, one in Vegas and two that tour. "We were in Boston at the beginning of year," Hackett said. "We sold out every night." They also sold out in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Easton, Pennsylvania, and played a week at the Stoneham Theater in Boston and six weeks at Detroit‘s City Theater. In July, the revue opened at San Francisco's Post Street Theatre. It was scheduled to be there for one month. In mid-November, as this is bring written, it is still playing and talks are underway for it to stay there at least through the end of 2005.
Hackett says that his father taught him the ropes and states that he was a great teacher. He not only shared his knowledge with his son but also with countless other aspiring comedians. "He understood comedy," Sandy says. "He analyzed it, digested it. He would have luncheons with other comics and talk about how telling a joke was like peeling an onion, going through layers of skin to get to the joke inside." Ironically, Buddy Hackett, who died in June of 2003, made his last TV appearance as a celebrity judge on "Last Comic Standing," a competition featuring hopeful comics trying to move to the next level of their careers.
Lisa Dawn Miller also comes from strong show business stock. Her father is legendary songwriter Ron Miller who has written some of the biggest hits in contemporary music, among them For Once In My Life, Touch Me In The Morning, A Place In the Sun, Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday, I've Never Been to Me, Someday at Christmas and If I Could. These songs have sold in the tens of millions and have been recorded by top artists including Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. Miller's Heaven Help Us All, sung by Charles and Gladys Knight, was included on the 2005 Grammy-winning Ray Charles Genius Loves Company duets CD. Lisa's mother, Aurora, is a soprano with credits that include the role of Tuptim in the Chicago production of The King & I. Aurora is also a hit songwriter with songs like Everyone's a Kid at Christmas Time, sung by Stevie Wonder.
Lisa was born in Detroit, where her father was one of the original in-house writers for Motown. When she was growing up, such luminaries as Wonder, the Temptations and other Motown greats hung out at the Miller home. She was seven when the family moved to Woodland Hills, California, in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. "I always had music all around me," she said. Even with all that inspiration, Lisa chose to follow a different career path. She became a stockbroker. She spent years working her way up the corporate ladder, becoming a vice president of the Morgan Stanley brokerage firm in Los Angeles. But it was hard to fight destiny. "I have always loved music," said Miller, "It always has been part of my soul."
Miller says it was a series of coincidences that resulted in her career change. Her father didn't want her to take voice lessons from local voice teachers as a youngster, feeling it would ruin her natural ability. Her initial vocal training came from watching her father produce Streisand, Ross and Wonder. "I once made a film score demo recording for a friend," she said. Ed Matthews, a producer in Las Vegas, heard the demo and liked what he heard. "He invited me here to do a one-woman show," Miller said. She performed in March 2003 at the 500-seat Starbright Theatre in Summerlin. It was a moving experience, and what inspired her to return to her musical roots.
How did Hackett and Miller get together? It was Sandy who arranged for Miller to do her show in Summerlin. Matthews suggested that Lisa meet Sandy and thank him personally. She went to the Greek Isles to see the tribute show and the maitre d' sat her in a booth in the front. "Sandy and I made eye contact when the show began. I thought he was cute. But then I got an important phone call and walked out," says Miller. She returned to her seat shortly before the show ended, as Louis Velez was performing his Sammy Davis Jr. Mr. Bojangles routine. Suddenly, Hackett came out from the wings, jumped off the stage and sat in Miller's lap. "We've been inseparable since we first met," she says.
Lisa's newly released CD, Fly Away, is being distributed by prestigious LML Music, the brainchild of popular cabaret performer/recording artist Lee Lessack. For a relatively new performer to join the ranks of award-winning talents such as Nancy LaMott, Stephen Schwartz, Gloria Loring, Linda Purl, Heather MacRae and Ray Jessel, who are also represented by LML, is quite an honor and show of confidence. Lisa's debut recording contains a number of songs written by her father - For Once In My Life, I Want To Come Back As a Song and If I Could - as well as a song co-written by Lisa and her father called We've Been Here Before. Harrah's headliner Clint Holmes recently recorded You Can Believe Again, co-written by Miller, her father and Bill Fayne (Holmes' music director). Miller says that David Foster protégé Josh Groban has expressed an interest in the song. Lisa has obviously inherited both her mother's talent for singing and her father's talent for writing. Her Fly Away CD can be ordered by going to her Web site at www.lisadawnmiller.com.
When asked just what their act at the Suncoast would consist of, Sandy Hackett responded, "Comedy (me) and Song (Lisa) and we will likely do a little of both together, i.e. a reprise of the world's foremost authority on Christmas, and a duet or two." The duo has performed together several times, including on the Florida condo circuit where they did 10 shows for 20,000 people, selling out wherever they went. They have also entertained crowds in Sun City communities in Nevada and Texas, done a number of corporate events, and appeared on the Tony Sacca Christmas TV special and Dennis Bono Live in Las Vegas.
Are the couple aspiring to be this generations' George Burns and Gracie Allen or Sonny and Cher? Sandy answered by saying, "I'm taller than George and I don't use a cigar, and I'm taller than Sonny and I ski better." Remember that Mr. Hackett is the comedy half of this duo! Check them out.