“My concerts are a pretty good workout for me,” he said.
Whether you look at his role models or his extensive experience both onstage and onscreen, Morrison prides himself on being a natural showman, a song-and-dance man and a performer who can do it all.
Morrison grew up idolizing the grace and masculinity of the legendary Gene Kelly while attending a performing-arts high school in California. He later went on to study at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts before starting his theatrical career in New York City.
He landed his first Broadway role playing Chuck Cranston in the stage adaptation of “Footloose” in 1998 before getting his breakout role as Link Larkin in the 2002 production of “Hairspray” and later a Tony Award-nominated performance in the musical “The Light at the Piazza” in 2005.
Morrison dabbles in Broadway, as he did last year playing J.M. Barrie in the stage adaptation of the 2004 film “Finding Neverland.” However, he admits he has to be selective because of the endurance it takes to consistently pull off musical theater at the highest level.
“I think Broadway is more of a young man’s game,” said Morrison, 37. “When you’re trying to put on that same performance that the people love every single night, it’s a lot of time and commitment.”
Morrison later transitioned to screen actor and eventually landed the role that catapulted his career, portraying Will Schuester, the high school Spanish-teacher-turned-glee club leader on Fox’s hit 2009 musical dramedy, “Glee.”
The show took home multiple Golden Globe Awards and Emmys during its six-year run and earned Morrison himself a Golden Globe nomination in 2010.
Even as each day provides more hindsight, Morrison can’t fully put his finger on what made “Glee” the pop culture phenomenon it was. But aside from its ability to tackle some serious issues in a unique way, he said the way the show used popular music is similar to what all great stage musicals can do.
“You take songs a lot of people heard many, many times. … If you weave those songs into a story line, those songs get a whole new meaning,” he said. “We got to some great storytelling through music and it wasn’t ever presented like that before.”
Morrison’s success on “Glee” has allowed him to scratch all of his creative itches. He recorded two studio albums — a self-titled release in 2010 and “Where It All Began” in 2013 — and returned to the small screen this year for a recurring role in the hit CBS drama “The Good Wife.”
But what he has done away from just acting or singing is what he will do Saturday at Lexington’s Picnic for the Pops . During production hiatuses on “Glee,” he began to organize tours and travel the country performing songs with various bands and orchestras.
When he comes to Lexington, Morrison will play a set list that will be a career retrospective of his Broadway work and recorded music, backed by the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
Morrison said the set list might be a bit different depending on both the city and whether he is backed by a symphony or a smaller band, but the feeling of having an orchestra back him up is a unique thrill.
“It’s kind of like being the general of an army,” he said. “It’s a very powerful and empowering feeling, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
Regardless of the number of musicians that accompany Morrison on any given performance, audiences will get to see a performer ecstatic to be in his element.
“Every time I hit that stage, it’s a breath of fresh air for me,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do, and I feel so lucky I get to do this and bring music and joy and hopefully introspectiveness to an audience every single night.”
“I just got back from Provincetown, where I did a show with Matthew Morrison. Yowza! Does he put out, theatrically! So many songs had dance breaks and his encore was “Singin’ in the Rain” with a dance break and an umbrella prop. Brava! Matt said his dancing began as a kid when he was in a “gang.” Of course, he lived in Orange County, CA, so I assume his gang was all pre-med students. Nonetheless, he said he would graffiti things and his “tag name” was Skyler. He said there was a girl he had a crush on, and her name was Skyler, and he thought it was a cool name. Tag name? From that explanation, I think he meant drag name. Anyhoo, he and his gang would get cardboard (as one does) and break dance all the time. Now that he’s older, he calls it “broke dancing” because the day after he does some steps, his body feels broke. I asked him what his signature step was and he said he could hoist his body up on one arm and pinwheel his legs. I then moved my chair back so he’d demonstrate but he wouldn’t do it for fear of a full body collapse. Cut to, by the time he came out for his encore, he hauled out his signature step and the crowd went wild. If they ever make a Broadway musical out of “Breakin,’” the 1984 film, please hire Matt. Yes, that was a film.
Before Matt ever did Broadway, he was in a fake boy band that the David Letterman show put together. It was called “Freshstep” (after the kitty litter), and he told me there was a song they did that was supposed to be from a film about a boy falling in love with a Deaf girl. The song was called “Don’t Talk To The Hand (Talk to the Heart).” Hilarious…and I found a clip online! And you can see Footloose star Jeremy Kushnier in the group as well!
I asked Matt how he got Glee, and he told us that he sent in an audition tape and they liked it. Then he had to go in person to audition for Ryan Murphy. He had just done a play with Jill Clayburgh, and she had worked with Ryan, so he asked her for advice. She basically told him to go in and flirt with Ryan. How did it go, I asked? His answer: “I got the job.” WERK!
Matthew Morrison isn’t sure exactly what’s going to happen when he appears at the Art House in Provincetown Sunday. But with Sirius radio host Seth Rudetsky as interviewer and pianist, he’s sure it will be a lot of fun.
“I’ve known Seth for a while,” Morrison says by phone from his home in New York. “His knowledge of the musical-theater canon is amazing, and I have a large repertoire of music, so I’m guessing it will be a retrospective of my career from the beginning until now.”
Morrison is best known for his long-running role as Will Schuester, the director of the glee club, in the Fox series “Glee.”
After leaving New York University, where he studied musical theater, vocal performance, and dance, Morrison has hardly ever stopped working, starting in the ensembles of “Footloose” and “The Rocky Horror Show” before getting his big Broadway break in “Hairspray.” He later appeared in “The Light in the Piazza,” for which he earned a Tony nomination as a featured actor, and “South Pacific.” When “Glee” completed its sixth and final season in 2015, he went back to Broadway to play J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland,” a production helmed by American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus.
“I’ve been lucky,” Morrison says. “I was cast in the ensemble for ‘Hairspray,’ but when the actor originally cast as Link Larkin got a film and left the show, I got the part. That led to ‘Glee.’ ”
The impact of “Glee,” he says, has given him a lot of options, but more importantly, the show helped generate a renewed interest in musical theater.
“I often say I feel like I was born in the wrong era, because I consider myself a song-and-dance man,” Morrison says. “My role model was Gene Kelly. I was a huge soccer player growing up, so I loved Gene Kelly’s athleticism as a dancer. But I think ‘Glee’ ’s celebration of song and dance is helping fuel a resurgence of musical theater.”
The success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” may have given it even more momentum — not that Morrison saw that phenomenon coming.
“I missed the boat on ‘Hamilton,’ ” he says with a laugh. “Lin-Manuel came to my trailer when we were filming ‘Glee.’ He had only written the first song, and he played it for me, but I couldn’t see how he could make a show out of the history story.”
It was too early in the development of “Hamilton” for casting decisions, and Morrison was committed to “Glee,” and he says the success of that show has given him the luxury “to take the time to think about what I want to do next.”
“I’ve been performing on the weekends in various cities, and spending the middle of the week at home reading scripts.”
Morrison says he tailors each performance to the audience of the city he’s in, sometimes performing with an orchestra, sometimes just a small band.
“In Provincetown, Seth will interview me and then I’ll perform some songs,” says Morrison. “I know he loves ‘Hairspray’ so I’m sure I’ll do a number from that, but then who knows? I’m very proud of my album of Broadway standards, so I hope to do some songs from that, too.”
Morrison’s lush album, 2013’s “Where It All Began,” was one of the last recordings produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, who had worked with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel, among many others.
“I was shocked when he agreed to produce it,” says Morrison. “He was nearly 80 but was so vital and young with his ideas and approach, he made me feel empowered to do my best.”
Although he typically likes to prepare for every performance, Morrison says he’s looking forward to the off-the-cuff conversation with Rudetsky, who may be famous for his hilarious obsessions with musical theater performers and performances, but who is also a gifted interviewer, as well as a composer, musician, and performer himself.
“I’m excited about the spontaneity,” Morrison says. “Not knowing what to expect will keep me on my toes.”
With Seth Rudetsky. Presented by Broadway @ Town Hall. At the Art House, Provincetown, Aug. 7. Tickets (proceeds benefit the Tyler Clementi Foundation): $50-$200, 508-487-9222, www.ptownarthouse.com
Matthew Morrison, well known celebrity extraordinaire, who sings, acts, and dances, can be considered what those in the industry call a “crossover success.” He went from starring every night on Broadway to then transitioning quite seamlessly to the silver screen. This song and dance man, whose idol is the iconic Gene Kelly, was Broadway bound from an early age. After attending a top notch high school for the performing arts and NYU Tisch, he began making a name for himself on Broadway, starring in such blockbusters as Footloose, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hairspray. He achieved television popularity and stardom when he was cast in the FOX musical comedy television show Glee as the thoughtful, fun-loving and exceptionally talented Mr. Schue. After becoming a household name after the show wrapped, Morrison went straight back to the theater in the Harvey Weinstein musical Finding Neverland starring as J.M Barrie, a role for which he received critical acclaim. Today, Morrison seems to be everywhere—guest starring on The Good Wife and preparing himself for a one night only engagement with The New York Pops. While he shared with Resident that he hopes to take some time for himself and his family this summer, we aren’t completely convinced Morrison plans to slow down any time soon.
Morrison sits down with Resident Contributor Kristen Oliveri:
Q: You’re performing with the iconic New York Pops this summer in New York City. How did that particular performance and partnership come about?
A: I’ve been fortunate enough to perform with many of our country’s greatest conductors, but one of the best conductors of our times in Steven Reineke, the music director and conductor of the New York Pops. He proposed putting an engagement together with myself and the New York Pops at the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens.
As for what’s in store for the show, we haven’t come up with our set list just yet. It’ll be comprised of some standards, but whenever I get up on the stage, what I really love to do is dance—Gene Kelly is my idol. I’m looking forward to it especially since I just wrapped up my stint at 54 Below, one of my favorite venues to perform in. I’m at my best when I can interact with my audience.
Q: Can you tell me about your current projects?
A: For years I worked tirelessly, taking on projects when they would come, but now I’m at the point in my career where I can be more choosey with what I want to do. I was offered a few different pilots after I wrapped Glee, but nothing was speaking to me. I got married in October 2014, and my wife and I put our honeymoon on hold. This summer, we’re taking that delayed honeymoon and have planned to travel for a month long throughout Europe and Africa. We’ll be visiting England, France, Italy and Africa. Africa has been on top of our list of places to visit, and I cannot wait to be immersed in such a beautiful experience.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re living and working in the Big Apple?
A: Summer is the most exciting time to be in the city, in my opinion. I love going upstate and to the Hamptons and there’s just more energy in the city. It feels like everyone’s more rambunctious. I love getting together with friends who often host barbecues in the city and then hitting up fun cocktail bars after. My wife and I love off-the-beaten path restaurants and bars like Bar Central. We also love this little Peruvian place in our neighborhood in Chelsea that we go to all the time. Another favorite of ours is La Bodega Negra with really great Latin food and spectacular cocktails. Our neighborhood is changing with so much construction going on, which is great for us in the long run, upping our real estate value.
Q: What books are you currently reading?
A: I’m actually reading Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson. It’s about these guys who are actually deep sea divers in search of pirate ships. For my travels, I’m looking forward to getting into The Agony and the Ecstasy which is Michelangelo’s life story and we’ll be in Italy and looking forward to checking out everywhere that’s mentioned in the book.
Q: What’s next for you in your career?
A: I’ve established myself as a true artist – I’ve had a certain amount of accolades and I think I’ve gained the respect of my peers. I will always want to come back to the stage, but after coming off of Finding Neverland with such a grueling schedule, I’d like to do some more TV and film for a while and then come back to Broadway. My focus now and hopefully going forward is also on the philanthropic side of things. Dr. Ralph Opacic launched the performing arts school I went to, Orange County School of the Arts, and he and I are working very closely in 2017 to open two new schools in California including San Diego County and probably in North Hollywood. For 2017-2018, we plan to roll out two more schools and make this a nationwide performing arts charter school. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t had the education I had. They have a culinary arts program, visual arts, film, media, creative writing and so many different outlets that the school provides and I’m truly excited for this venture. Our eventual goal is to get into New York as well.
Q: What was your go-to audition song in your early years?
A: “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. It’s actually the one song I sang for every audition, including Glee. That song shares such great storytelling, and I appreciate that a lot since you don’t find that quality as much in music today.
Q: If you weren’t a performer, what would you be?
A: In my junior year of high school, I was met with a dilemma – to pursue the arts or athletics. I was a pretty good soccer player, and had some opportunities to continue with it as a career. However, as you can see, I chose to stick with the arts. With that being said, the answer would be athlete.
Q: Who’s one famous person (dead or alive) that you’d like to have dinner with?
A: Gene Kelly.
Matthew Morrison Wows NYC Crowd with the New York Pops
On Thursday July 7, Matthew Morrison took to the stage at Queens-based Forest Hills Stadium with fellow Broadway icon, Megan Hilty for a special evening of song, dance and spectacular music, celebrating classic Broadway style. Morrison and Hilty were supported by the incredible New York Pops, conducted by Steven Reineke, their renowned music director and conductor. Morrison channeled his inner (and outer) song-and-dance man persona to perform such classics as Come Fly With Me, On the Street Where You Live and Singin’ in the Rain. He also paired up with Hilty for a touching rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow where Morrison played his beloved ukulele throughout the duet. Another shining moment was when Morrison returned to his beginnings on Broadway to sing a medley from Hairspray—one of his first Broadway productions in which he played Link Larson. As for the closing of the evening, it came full circle Morrison ending with a medley from his latest show, Finding Neverland. An audible sigh was heard throughout the crowd when the performance was over and it was clear to see we all wanted more of Matthew Morrison.
A bevy of Broadway’s best were on hand for a special screening of the upcoming Paramount Pictures’ film Florence Foster Jenkins on Monday, July 25.
The evening was hosted by Tony winners Cynthia Erivo and Patina Miller, as well as Tony nominees Colman Domingo, Matthew Morrison, and Max von Essen. On hand were Anastasia stars Christy Altomare and Derek Klena; Ana Villafañe of On Your Feet!, The Lion King‘s L. Steven Taylor and Tshidi Manye, and many others. The Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg, who appears in Florence Foster Jenkins, was also present for an appearance.
Released on August 12, Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. It is directed by Stephen Frears.
Actors Matthew Morrison and Megan Hilty are singing with the legendary New York Pops this summer, but they won’t tell TODAY about secretly planned performances that aren’t in the program! However, Hilty does dish on her role in TV Land’s revival of “The First Wives Club,” and Morrison talks about the “life-changing experience” of visiting Africa on his honeymoon. (Run time: 3:01)
Matthew will visit The Today Show on Wednesday, July 6th, during the 9 – 10 am hour, with Broadway actress Megan Hilty, to talk about their New York Pops Summer Concert, taking place on July 7th at the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NY.