“I’m singing from the standards, so there are a lot of great love songs in there,” Morrison said in recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “I’m excited to share the love.”
The song-and-dance man of Broadway, film and TV fame is performing with a jazzy five-piece band on a tour that comes to the Wheeler Opera House on Tuesday.
Morrison’s concerts offer a mix of material from his stage and screen career — from TV’s “Glee” and Broadway’s “Finding Neverland,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” — along with his charming spin on the classics of American song and some originals from his self-titled 2011 album.
“I always feel like I was born in the wrong era,” said Morrison, 38. “I love the standards and all they represent and the gorgeous storytelling they did back in the day.”
Morrison complements the crooning with a strong dance element in his concerts (“I’ll be strutting my stuff all over that stage”). The California native, who made his Broadway debut in “Footloose” and got his star turn as Link in “Hairspray,” has become one of the world’s leading musical theater actors, while also winning over the masses as teacher Will Schuester on the television show “Glee,” earning Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nods along the way.
Morrison looks back on his time on “Glee” with pride.
“The further I get away from it, the more I realize how special it was,” he said. “I could have been on any show and played a cop or a lawyer or something, but this is a show that I actually played an inspirational teacher.”
The enormously popular and acclaimed “Glee” shifted the culture not only for musicals — it’s no stretch to say it helped pave the way for a pop culture landscape where “La La Land” is a frontrunner for a Best Picture Oscar and “Hamilton” is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon — but also moved the needle for gay rights and marriage equality.
“The way it spoke to the LGBT community, at a very important time in our history — I see a family sitting down and watching ‘Glee’ together and then they turn off the TV and they have a conversation about what they just saw,” Morrison reflected. “There was a lesson in every episode. For that, I’m truly grateful.”
Cutting his teeth on Broadway, where the eight-show-a-week grind tests the stamina of the most gifted of singers and actors, prepared Morrison for hitting the road as a solo act. The strength of his voice has earned him some challenging roles — playing J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland,” for example, he performed a dozen songs every night. So doing 15 or 16 on this national tour isn’t as daunting as it might be otherwise.
“I think Broadway is the best preparation for anyone doing anything,” he said. “All that training has built up my stamina to do something like this. … It’s what I was born to do. It’s my favorite thing to do.”
Touring with a catalog of throwback tunes scratches a creative itch that Morrison isn’t likely to lose, though he won’t resist the siren song of Hollywood.
“My love for the stage will always be there, that’s my number one place that I love to be,” Morrison said. “But at this point in my career, I feel like I want to be doing more in front of the camera. This is the heyday of television.”
From here, along with touring, Morrison hopes to continue being a part of what many have dubbed a “golden age” of television — he had a recurring role on the last season of “The Good Wife” and has more projects in the works. He’s also at work on producing and starring in an original Broadway musical and has been work-shopping Stephen Sondheim’s new “Bunuel.” On the big screen, fans can see Morrison in the costume drama “Tulip Fever,” due out next month.
Putting together a solo concert has also forced Morrison to play himself onstage — a relatively new role for the actor, and one he’s growing into.
“You can always hide behind a character,” he said. “With something like this, you have to trust yourself and know yourself and be confident. You can’t hide. That’s been therapeutic and it’s something I’ve learned to find great joy in.”
Matthew Morrison will bring his extensive show-tune repertoire with him when he plays the Parker Playhouse on Feb. 17. But it’s the American songbook that’s his favorite.
“I love singing, and I love singing these standards,” Morrison says. “For me, that’s my wheelhouse and what I love to sing. Songwriting has become about having a cool beat. But [back then], music and lyrics were about telling a story. I love storytelling. I’m not just singing a song, I’m acting, as well. In some songs, I throw in a dance break as well. I try to give them the whole package.”
Morrison’s appearance is part of Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Concert Series, in which stage stars are interviewed by Sirius XM radio host and Broadway expert Rudetsky. In the performances, Rudetsky prompts behind-the-scenes stories and accompanies the artists while they sing songs from their Great White Way repertoire.
And Morrison has plenty to draw from. On Broadway, he starred in “Footloose,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Hairspray.” He was nominated for a Tony Award for his 2005 performance in “The Light in the Piazza” and most recently headlined the 2015 Broadway run of “Finding Neverland.”
Here are excerpts from a recent interview.
Have you ever been to Fort Lauderdale?
I’ve never been to Fort Lauderdale. I’ve spent a lot of time in Miami. I travel there with the same group every New Year’s. We’ve also gone to places like Sydney, London. Last year, we were in Hong Kong. But we’ve spent a few New Year’s in Miami. I love staying at the Fontainebleu and going every place in Miami’s nightlife.
If you just did songs from “Glee” and your three albums, you’d fill up a whole show. Are there some career bookmarks that you think you and Seth must hit or reference?
Because the show is so loose, I would say no. He always gets to the big ones like “Hairspray” and “Glee.” One of his favorite shows is “Light in the Piazza,” so I’m pretty sure he’ll do that.
Is this format — chatting off the cuff and then singing a song — thrilling for you, or just plain scary?
I’m very meticulous with my performances, so these performances were always a little daunting to me only because I have no control because Seth is in the driver’s seat and I’m along for the ride. He’s quite funny. He has a great sense of humor. I find myself finding out a lot about myself in the questions he asks. He is very enlightening in that way.
What about the interview questions he asks onstage?
I rarely get scared about these, when it’s about my life. I mean, I should have the answers. I guess it’s more thrilling because he goes way, way back and asks things about childhood and some of the first performances I did. He kind of covers the grand scope of my life. It’s thrilling and nostalgic … going back and talking about the great moments and the hidden meanings. It’s like going to therapy almost.
By the time you were on “Glee,” you were already well known on Broadway. Describe the difference between being a star of the stage and being a star on television.
With “Glee,” when we shot the first 13 shows, we were in a bubble. None of them had even aired before we shot all 13. We lived sitting in this little bubble of innocence. We had no idea what to expect. I mean, at the end of the day, it was a show about singing and dancing high-school students and we didn’t know how it would be received. And then, the next thing I know, I’m sitting on Oprah’s couch. And I’m like, “Oh, wow. This is a different ball game.” That was the moment for me. When I go to different countries all over the world, I’m now recognized most of the time. They don’t know my name. It’s Mr. Schuester. That’s kind of fun. And I love it. I love that it was for a show that actually stood for something. The message of “Glee” was a message of acceptance. It was about the underdog rising up, and we hit a lot of social issues. I’d like to think that for some people it opened up the conversation [on topics like] being gay in high school, teen pregnancy, school shootings. I’m very glad we did that.
Matthew Morrison will perform 8 p.m. Feb. 17 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale (in Holiday Park). Tickets cost $37-$123. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.
Exciting times for the California School of the Arts. Its new campus in the San Gabriel Valley opens in August. This Saturday, interested students will be allowed to preview its academic and arts programs, Matthew Morrison was with us to tell us more.
Matthew Morrison didn’t get a chance to sing and dance Thursday night as much as he might have in one of his more traditional concert programs, but audiences got to know a lot more about him during his performance with accompanist and interviewer Seth Rudetsky at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The show was a combination concert (with Rudetsky at the piano) and Q&A session, with Rudetsky interviewing Morrison the way he might one of his guests on his Sirius XM programs on the Broadway channel.
Between songs, Rudetsky and Morrison sat in armchairs in a faux living room setting for a bit of conversation that allowed us to see the personal side of Morrison. Under Rudetsky’s comical yet earnestly curious prodding, Morrison talked about falling in love with theater at age 10 when he was staying in Arizona with relatives who sent all the kids to a summer theater camp.
He also admitted to being in a quasi “gang” that spray-painted buildings in junior high school in Orange County. “In Orange County?” Rudetsky asked. “What did you spray paint, Disneyland?”
The questions had Morrison blushing at times, which just made him, and the program, seem more genuine, charming and gracious.
And that same sense of charm comes out in this song and dance man’s easy, almost effortless performing style. He grew up idolizing Gene Kelly, and eventually got to live out his dream by appearing or starring in seven Broadway shows and playing school choir director Will Schuester in the Fox hit “Glee.”
The musical part of his program included several songs from his studio album “Where it all Began,” in which he displayed a clear and pleasing voice on such songs as “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Younger than Springtime” from “South Pacific,” in which he starred in a Broadway revival. And his tone was pure and sweet, singing a song from his Tony-nominated role in “The Light in the Piazza.”
He moves with grace and polish and can still hit the high notes even when he’s a bit breathless.
He also talked about his skills as a breakdancer, and his days in both a fake boy band performing skits on David Letterman’s “The Late Show,” and the early days of a real one called LMNT. He hated it, he said, because “it was so fake. There was no art in it.”
His passion for live theater was always clear. Even when he was doing “Glee” and building a wide fan base around the world, Morrison longed to be back on stage. He went on a concert tour around the time of his first album just to have a live stage fix. And as soon as the show’s run ended in 2015, he went right back to Broadway to play writer J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland.”
Morrison closed the show with an extended medley of songs from “Hairspray,” in which he created the role of Link Larkin. The songs kept him moving and swiveling his hips with flair and getting the audience to clap along.
And Rudetsky was right there with him, as much fan as performer. He admitted to recently undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon on one of his biceps, and said that Thursday’s show was his first time being allowed to play the piano in more than a month. You’d never have known.
Most people know Matthew Morrison as the young teacher Will “Mr. Schue” Schuester from the hit TV show “Glee.” But he’s also got a more classic set of influences.
“I’m just trying to emulate my idol, Gene Kelly,” he says. “I’m trying to bring back the modern song-and-dance man to our generation.”
Morrison, 38, is touring the country backed by a jazz band for an evening of standards and favorites, including a performance Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. With his smooth tenor, the “versatile, hard-driving musical frontiersman,” as the New York Times pegs him, pulls from all the different work he’s done over the years.
The “retrospective show” includes an eight-minute medley of songs from the Broadway production of “Hairspray,” during which he runs through the entire story and some “Glee” moments, as well.
“Today’s music is all about coming up with a cool beat,” says Morrison, who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York. “With standards, the classic songwriters of the day would take music and lyrics and tell a story. That’s why I love these songs, because I get to put myself into different characters and really put on a show.”
As the only child of Army nurses, Morrison — who was born at Fort Ord, which closed in 1994 and reopened as Cal State Monterey Bay — discovered musical theater at age 10.
He was living in Orange County when his parents sent him to family in Arizona for the summer.
According to Morrison, “they didn’t really want to deal with me and my cousin so they threw us in a play.”
He was hooked.
After nearly a decade of children’s theater, Orange County High School of the Arts and New York University, he made his Broadway debut in “Footloose.” But his big break came when we was cast as heartthrob Link Larkin in the original Broadway production of “Hairspray.”
More recently he starred in the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” and workshopped Stephen Sondheim’s next musical with the working title “Buñuel” after the Spanish director Luis Buñuel.
Though he’s most comfortable performing for a live audience, Morrison says he likes putting in time in front of the camera.
“These shows and concerts have really allowed me time to read a lot of scripts and go after what I want to do,” he says. “I don’t have to go and jump into a TV show that I don’t want to do because I need the money. It’s such a blessing on so many different levels.”
Look for him as a philandering drunkard in Tom Stoppard’s “Tulip Fever,” a period piece set in Amsterdam during the so-called “Tulip mania” of 1636, when the market for trading tulip bulbs soared to such large sums of money that it inevitably led to a spectacular crash of the Dutch economy.
The film’s star-studded cast includes Oscar winners Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench. It arrives in theaters Feb. 24.
From the moment Broadway and television star Matthew Morrison, as a kid, saw Gene Kelly on the silver screen, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“You’re either an Astaire guy or a Gene Kelly person. … Gene Kelly was the proletariat, the working man,” Morrison explains. “He was just such a man when he was dancing, and that’s what I wanted to emulate.”
The triple threat is adding a third act to his already thriving career with a series of solo concert engagements around the world, including one at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
For Morrison, it’s a chance to carry the torch of Kelly’s legacy into a more intimate and personal setting. While most solo Broadway concert gigs feature a performer singing their heart out on a stool, Morrison brings his signature hoofing into the act. “A big part of my show is dance,” he says.
Morrison rose to fame as the affable, inspiring choir teacher Will Schuester on Fox’s Glee, but theater and live performance have always been his first loves. “It’s like oxygen for me,” he says. Before and after the hit musical television show, Morrison made a career on the Broadway stage – originating the roles of Link Larkin in Hairspray and Fabrizio Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza, and portraying the hunky, morally conflicted Lieutenant Cable in the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Featuring songs from these career highlights, as well as many other jazz and Broadway standards, Morrison’s show tells the actor’s story through song (and dance). “My career is so diverse because I am not just a TV actor or a film actor or a Broadway actor,” he explains.
From South Pacific ballads to an eight-minute song-and-dance medley inspired by Hairspray, Morrison will span the gamut of his career in a mixture of song and dance accompanied by a jazz band (in other venues he’s joined by a symphony orchestra). “Honestly, the biggest appeal for me is being myself. Whenever I do other shows, I’m always playing a character,” he says. “I get to be myself and tell my stories. It’s just a real journey, and it’s my journey, so that’s something I like to share with people.”
The Broadway veteran likens the process of constructing his solo concert to the work of a stand-up comedian, from deciding on a concept for the arc of the show to perfecting the final version. “Like a stand-up comic, you’re constantly working your show, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, throw out this joke, add this one,” he says. “So it’s been a work in progress over the past year, really trying to hone it in.”
Morrison says he aims to create a show with a flexible and diverse range, working in up-tempo songs and never letting it sink under the weight of too many ballads. When it comes to choosing the songs themselves, he says he generally just selects his favorite and then adjusts the set list order to create a fluid performance. Many of the musicals he’s showcasing, including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza, feature multiple solo numbers. In that case, Morrison says he selects the song that best suits his voice, rather than his favorite.
But there’s one song he can’t shake: My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” has been his favorite song most of his life, growing and shifting with him. “That song is one of the first songs I ever sang at school, it’s the song that’s followed me my whole career,” he says. “I’ve sang it at almost every audition I’ve ever done. I booked Glee with that song. And the song has changed for me over the years. It used to be the young guy yearning … but now that I’m married, it’s become more like I’ve gone through the journey, and I will always remain here for you, being your rock.”
Morrison also tries to include songs or moments in his set that speak to each city where he’s performing. He hasn’t settled on what that will be for Los Angeles yet, but says it’s an issue of narrowing it down. His Los Angeles engagement is a homecoming of sorts. The actor grew up in Orange County, attending the renowned Orange County High School of the Arts, and he still leads a bicoastal life, maintaining a home in sunny L.A. “I just love being home here,” he says. “My home here really feels like a home. New York, it’s all apartment living, so it’s very tight quarters. It’s nice to actually walk around and have a nice big kitchen to cook in.”
While he’s thrilled to be back in his California home and in proximity to favorite restaurants and Runyon Canyon, Morrison is most excited to be able to do a live show that friends and family can attend: “It’s rare that I get to come back to Los Angeles. … A lot of friends are going to be able to see what I’ve been doing with my life for the past couple years.”
Morrison also has committed to giving back to his hometown. He regularly visits high schools and college campuses to teach master classes and answer students’ questions, particularly at his alma mater in Orange County. He is part of a group using the Orange County High School of the Arts as a model to open similar schools in the San Gabriel Valley and San Diego County. Morrison says they hope to expand to schools nationwide.
“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the high level, high quality of teaching and learning that I got at that school,” he says. “I owe so much of my success to that school that I want to pay it forward and continue to reach out to the younger generation.” He fondly recalls when Broadway performer Susan Egan (she originated Belle in Disney’s theatrical production of Beauty and the Beast) came to his high school, and he got to dance with her. Morrison says he wants to pass along that experience to the next generation of performers and the reminder that at one time he was just like them, learning from Broadway greats and aspiring to be one. “I’m Mr. Schuester,” he jokes, “I’ve gotta keep the legend alive.”
Not only has Glee brought in a youthful audience to Morrison’s solo shows, but in general it has sparked a resurgence of interest in the Broadway musical. Thanks to cultural phenomenons such as Glee and Hamilton, musical theater is no longer languishing in the shadows as a niche interest. Morrison says he hasn’t noticed it from the inside of the process (“It’s the same experience being a performer”), but that box office numbers and the general interest in musicals has increased. “It’s a great time for Broadway,” he says, “but, on the inside, I feel like it’s still the same tight-knit, great community.”
Morrison hopes his concerts help perpetuate interest in both musical theater and the Great American Songbook. “It was the height of storytelling,” he says. “Today with music, a lot of people are just trying to come up with a cool beat. … We’ve lost that true songwriting in a lot of ways. Back then, it was so simple. You take music and lyrics, and you tell a story, and that was the basis of everything.”
When your concert is about telling your life story, it’s helpful to have a set list that does it for you. “It’s so easy to sing these songs because I really fall into the acting of them,” he says. “They’re so easy to act because they’re really just great stories. When I hear a standard, I almost don’t want the song to end because I just want the story to keep going.”
When it’s Morrison telling the story, it’s hard not to feel the same way.
Matthew Morrison at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.; $75-$115. thebroadstage.com.
Matthew Morrison learned long ago to be prepared for every performance, but there’s only so much he can do when he’s not exactly sure what’s going to happen when he shares the stage with Seth Rudetsky at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Thursday.
Morrison is best known for major roles in the Broadway musicals “The Light in the Piazza,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and, most recently “Finding Neverland,” and he earned an army of fans as Will Schuester, the teacher who resurrects the long-abandoned high school glee club on the hit series “Glee.” He also had a recurring role on the final season of “The Good Wife” and has earned Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations for his roles.
Rudetsky might be dubbed “Mr. Broadway.” He has played keyboards in the orchestra of numerous musicals, been an accompanist for countless stars in concerts, is an arranger, Playbill columnist, blogger and the co-creator of last season’s Tony-nominated musical “Disaster.” A former writer for Rosie O’Donnell’s daytime talk show, he’s also one of the main hosts of the Sirius XM Broadway channel, and has twice come to Sarasota to help the Van Wezel announce its Broadway series.
The Van Wezel concert will be a low-key affair, with Rudetsky accompanying the song and dance man, and interviewing him in between songs.
“It’s nerve-wracking and fun because I don’t know what to expect,” Morrison said. “I’m usually very methodical with my shows and how to lay them all out and talking points. This is more off the cuff and does add an element of surprise and gets my nerves going and I like that. It makes me feel alive.”
For Rudetsky, it’s just another day on the job. He frequently interviews the creators and performers of Broadway shows on his radio programs.
Rudetsky said that Morrison will perform songs from his Broadway shows, among other songs, and in between “I’ll ask him questions about the shows, and stories that I’ve heard about. I have no idea where we’re going to go. I’m very interested myself in knowing the answers. I love Broadway history. It’s going to be like the audience is hanging out with us in our living room, talking about whatever I want to talk about.”
Rudetsky said the format, which he’s done with such artists as Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley and Andrea Martin, helps keeps the programs light and spontaneous and also gets the singers to open up.
“A lot of people don’t like talking about themselves, but they need to appreciate their own careers as they’re talking, they’ll realize that it’s so cool that I experienced that.”
Morrison said that “Glee” changed the trajectory of his career. Before that Fox series had its debut, “if you didn’t live in the New York community, you probably didn’t know who I was, whereas now with ‘Glee’ being such a huge international show, you’re traveling all over the world and people are recognizing you. I’m just so happy as an actor. ‘Glee’ was so special in a moment in our history and it changed peoples’ lives. It taught a lot about bullying. People could connect to some of the characters, the messages were so strong, and it was so special to be part of something that was monumental and really had an effect on people.”