It’s been an emotional year for fans of the pop music-TV show mashup “Glee.”
First came news that Cory Monteith, who played simple-minded jock-turned-glee-club-leader Finn Hudson, died as a result of a drug overdose. Then came confirmation from creator Ryan Murphy that next season, the sixth, would also be the final one for the show that delighted its cult fan base early on but has slipped in recent seasons, in many critics’ opinions.
For Matthew Morrison, who’s played swoon-worthy teacher Will Shuester since the series’ inception, it was tough to return to the set this season. But it was necessary, too.
“When we first started filming this year it was definitely morose and just kind of scary going back to work. We didn’t know what to expect and how it would be. But I think it’s something that we all needed, we needed to be back at work and be with each other,” he says.
A tribute episode to Monteith’s character was a key element in the cast’s healing.
“The tribute episode was incredibly emotional and hard but it really, you know, it was very therapeutic for me and I think for all of us,” Morrison said.
But speaking during a rare break from filming in mid-November, Morrison said things were getting back to normal. That’s good, because he can’t afford to slow down for long.
He films “Glee” 10 months out of the year, spends weekends on the road performing and has his sights on a return to Broadway. Oh, and he’s planning a wedding with his fiancée, model Renee Puente.
This Saturday his schedule includes a star turn at The Grand for the venue’s annual bash, the Grand Gala. The concert isn’t the only treat for gala goers. The epic after-party at the Hotel du Pont will feature live music, open bars, dancing and gourmet goodies in six rooms.
For his portion of the big event, Morrison will be singing with a stellar group of musicians: About 50 members of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra
The group will be dipping into the standards, Broadway favorites and pop hits Morrison favors.
“I’m kind of one of those people who feels like they were born in the wrong era; I feel like I was meant to be in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “I love that style, I love the sound of a full orchestra behind you, like I’m going to be doing in Delaware with the big symphony orchestra behind me.”
The self-proclaimed song-and-dance man released an album packed with Broadway hits and standards – “Singin’ in the Rain,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Luck Be a Lady” all made the cut – in June, and just last month he put out a six-track EP of holiday favorites.
When asked why release a Christmas album now, he deadpans, “Because it’s almost Christmas.”
But with a chuckle he answers seriously the holiday CD was a fluke. It came out of sessions for “Where it All Began,” the album he released in June. The team and producer Phil Ramone were having such a good time recording the standards last March that they decided to dip into old holiday favorites as well.
“We strung a bunch of Christmas lights in the studio and really got into the spirit,” he says.
The six-song EP was released Nov. 19, with songs including “Jingle Bell Rock,” and a mashup of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas/Mele Kalikimaka.” The latter might have been a nod to his future wife’s Hawaiian background. She might, after all, do a traditional hula dance at their wedding. That detail is a rare one; the performer is fairly tight-lipped about his personal life.
He also likes to keep his potential projects quiet. He has a dream stage revival, but he’s not going to jinx it by talking about it. He’s talked to directors and producers and might like to do something original instead of a revival, but there’s nothing he’s going on the record with just yet.
One thing’s for sure, though. The Tony Award-nominated Morrison will be making a return to Broadway.
“I think in the grand scope of everything that I have done, it’s brought me to the realization that live performance is where my heart is, so I’m kind of itching to get back on stage to do another Broadway show,” he says.
Movies-turned-Broadway-shows are now the norm (see: “The Lion King,” “Legally Blonde,” “Kinky Boots”), so a stage adaptation of “Glee” is not a far-fetched idea. Morrison wouldn’t likely be the star, though.
“I’ve lived this show for, you know, it will be six years when we’re done. As great as the show is and as amazing a platform it has been for me and my career, I’m ready to step into someone else’s shoes,” he says.
On Saturday he’ll be stepping out with the DSO. Singing with a group of that magnitude feels like you’re “a general leading an army,” he says.
This particular army of musicians already has a leader, music director David Amado, who says the group is equally excited about the show.
“We don’t get to do the popular songbook much, and that’s great for us,” Amado said.
When asked if it allows the group to “let their hair down,” he said they do that all the time.
“I like to think we let our hair down even when nobody thinks we let our hair down. The world of classical music has this stereotype of being really buttoned up, but it’s not.”
It’s a good thing the group knows how to let loose, because one of Morrison’s idols is Gene Kelly. So he plans to “work up a nice sweat” during the performance.
Another idol is Paul Newman, and not just for his acting chops. Morrison admires his philanthropic legacy.
Although his gig as a choir teacher is just for TV, Morrison wants to make sure kids have access to music education. His goal is to open a few performing arts high schools – modeled after his alma mater, New York’s Tisch School of the Arts – in California within the next 5 years. From there, the schools could go national.
“That’s the dream,” he says.