“Glee’s” Morrison returns to his roots

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‘Glee’ star dazzles mixing jazz, show tunes

Matthew Morrison’s evening with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra began with the TV star peeking out of a side door, outfitted in a tux and black fedora, microphone in hand, introducing himself.

“… Here in a role he was born to play,” Morrison boomed in his best announcer voice, before pausing for a beat, then adding, “because he’s playing himself!”

Lest you thought Morrison was born to play Will Schuester, the fashionably optimistic choir director on the Fox hit “Glee,” he clarified that too.

“I’m not really a high school teacher – I just play one on TV,” he told the mostly full audience inside Kleinhans Music Hall. “I spend my days in classy music halls like this one.”

Actually, for the next couple of months, Morrison is spending most of his days on a Los Angeles soundstage, filming the final season of “Glee’s” six-year run. But after that, he’s likely back to his Broadway roots. Which means Morrison – who before “Glee” starred in “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and “The Light in the Piazza” – will be singing live with much more frequency than the handful of orchestra concerts he’s doing this fall.

And that’s a good thing, because by all indications from his Buffalo show, the 35-year-old is poised to revive a form of musical performance he feels has faded: the song-and-dance man.

In a two-hour show that featured about 70 minutes of Morrison’s music along with a trio of BPO songs led by guest conductor John Morris Russell, he covered 13 songs with the orchestra backing him. Morrison opened with the 1931 Duke Ellington and Irving Mills tune, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” then worked his way through a blend of Broadway and jazz numbers, the best of which was a rendition of Dean Martin’s “Sway.”

Morrison personalized some numbers; for example, to “The Lady is a Tramp,” he added the localized lyrics, “She likes a ball game, thinks the Bills are fine … Jim Kelly is a friend of mine.”

(Interesting side note: Morrison has a Western New York connection. His dad, who accompanied him to Buffalo, is a Niagara University grad.)

He talked about the wistfulness of elusive love while leading into “Street Where You Live” and “As Long as She Needs Me,” the latter a gender-flipped version the “Oliver” number “As Long as He Needs Me.”

Trim and muscular with smooth dancing ability, Morrison knows his sex appeal. He doesn’t flaunt it, but doesn’t ignore it either. He told the audience about his role in “South Pacific” that required him to sing shirtless at Lincoln Center eight times a week. He offered to do the same on stage at Kleinhans, and started loosening his bow tie – one of the few times the politely quiet orchestra crowd started buzzing.

Then he stopped.

“I only take my shirt off in Lincoln Center,” Morrison said, tie dangling from both sides of his collar. “In Lincoln Center, it’s art.

“In Buffalo, it’s a Bills game in December.”

Morrison is ever the showman. But he wasn’t the only one on stage.

Guest conductor Russell sparkled, too. From exuberantly mouthing the words to both the U.S. and Canadian anthems to telling stories on stage before Morrison emerged in both the first and second acts, Russell was entertaining.

In fact, he was almost too entertaining for a show in which he wasn’t the star.

Take what happened during a punchy version of Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” which was arranged by Morrison’s musical director and pianist Brad Ellis (who’s also the pianist on “Glee”): Morrison tapped Russell, took his baton and started conducting the orchestra. Russell took Morrison’s microphone and started singing.

It was entertaining, for sure, but you also had the sense Morrison and Russell were slightly competing for the spotlight. Continue reading

A ‘Glee’ful step into the future with Matthew Morrison – new interview!

Have the likes of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire vanished into the air of history?

Maybe so, but Matthew Morrison is determined to change that. With his velvet voice, deft dancing and chiseled chin, he might just do it.

Morrison, 35, is wrapping up the role that made him famous, the musical and fashionable teacher Will Schuester on “Glee.” The Fox hit is entering its sixth and final season, meaning Morrison will soon be free to return to New York and, aside from choice movie and TV gigs, revel on the stage he loves the most: Broadway.

“I can’t wait to get back onstage,” said Morrison, who starred on Broadway in “Hairspray,” “The Light in the Piazza” and “South Pacific.”

Not that Morrison has been exclusive to “Glee.” Between the show and some film work, Morrison released a pair of CDs, recorded a duet with Elton John, and has been performing live shows for a few years.

He’s coming to town to open the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Pop Series at 8 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

“He’s an old-school kind of star,” said Brad Ellis, Morrison’s musical director and also the piano player on “Glee.” “My phrase for it is ‘the man at the microphone.’ ”

Morrison recently chatted with us by phone from New York hours before flying to Los Angeles to begin shooting “Glee’s” final season.

Question: How has “Glee” impacted your life?
Morrison
: There are positives and negatives to everything. I’m looking out the window of my New York City apartment right now, and I wouldn’t have these kind of luxuries in my life without this kind of show. What it’s done for my career has been just incredible. As an actor, the only power you have is the power to say no. Unfortunately, in a lot of actors’ careers you can’t afford to say no because you want to soak up every opportunity you can possibly get. The luxury to pick and choose what you want to do is something I feel so lucky to have.

There’s a negative side to it, too. My fiancée and I are getting married next year and people are just trying to get inside our lives, find out what our wedding date is, and really just get into our business. I’m a human being like anyone else, so it’s just kind of frustrating when I can’t have that anonymity that I used to have.

Q: Elton John is your friend and collaborator, and President Obama is a fan of yours. That has to be a little surreal.
Morrison: Growing up, Elton John’s music was always playing in my house because my parents loved him. So now that I’m friends with him and his partner, watching his kids grow up and stuff, it is kind of surreal to me. But at the same time I know him on a personal level, so he’s not “Elton John” to me anymore. He’s just Elton.

President Obama is something different. He’s someone who’s kind of untouchable still. As much as I would like to say I’m friends with him, you can never have a real, honest conversation with him because there are people with guns around. That’s a different scenario. Maybe one day I’ll have a good conversation with him when he’s out of the White House.

Q: What’s your goal with your stage show?
Morrison: I feel like the classic song-and-dance man is gone, the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Those people have influenced my life like no one else, so I’m trying to bring that back a little bit. My stage show is very that – timeless American classic songs, mixed with a dance aspect, a very smooth, throwback band. I tell stories of my time before “Glee,” coming up the ranks in the Broadway community, landing “Glee,” and what my journey is going to be afterward. Which I don’t know, but I make up some stuff.

Q: So how are you feeling about the end of “Glee”?
Morrison: It’s bittersweet, but I come from a world where I’m used to doing a part for a year at a time, then you leave and do another role. This is going to be interesting because I’ve been doing this role for six years now, almost seven years, so I’m ready to leave it behind. I’m looking forward to the future. I’m going to be doing some more film and television, but at the end of the day, I can’t wait to get back onstage … get back to New York and back on Broadway.

Q: You’re a young guy to ask about legacy, but I’ll ask: Is Broadway where you want to leave your mark?
Morrison: I like the multifaceted aspect of my career: doing concerts, straight acting gigs, and then doing musical theater shows. The diversity has been fun. But absolutely, my heart is onstage. That’s why I started doing concerts, to fill that void of not being onstage while doing this television show. I’m looking forward to getting back. I just can’t wait.

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Glee star to kick off BPO Pops series

A pop culture celebrity from television and Broadway will open the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra pops concert series this Saturday at Klenihans Music Hall.  Singer, actor and dancer Matthew Morrison — one of the star’s of “Glee” — will make his debut with the BPO.  WBFO’S Eileen Buckley had a chance to speak with Morrison ahead of this weekend’s Buffalo appearance.

Listen here! 

Broadway.com Lessons of the Week: Matthew and Adam Jacobs were… in a cult?!?

Broadway.com is bringing you a recap of all the weird stuff that happened this week. From Sarah Jessica Parker’s house-sized closet to the food obsessions of our favorite Broadway stars, it’s all right here in the Lessons of the Week.

Matt Morrison & Adam Jacobs Are in a Cult
Before going the clean-cut route in Aladdin and Glee, these Broadway bros were apparently involved in some dark stuff. In college at NYU, the stars belonged to a creepy sounding group called “The Tribe,” which Jacobs joked was “a secret cult.” Hey, you guys need some more members? We’ll drink that Kool-Aid any day of the week.

Source: Broadway.com

Matthew Morrison talks ‘Glee’, music and Salk

Actor-singer will headline the 19th annual Symphony at Salk galaYou might know him as Will Schuester on the TV show “Glee,” but ask actor Matthew Morrison about what really gets his heart pumping, and he’ll tell you it’s performing in front of a live audience.”Television and live performance are very different,” he said. “With television, it’s a taped occurrence with no immediate interaction with an audience. More room is allowed for hiccups and to make things just as the director envisions it. With a live performance

— whether it be theater, music or comedy — there is a very real experience with viewers. The reaction is immediate, and the energy results from the performer’s interaction with the audience, and vice versa.

“Although more demanding, I truly enjoy playing in front of a live audience more than filming,” added Morrison, whose Broadway credits include “Footloose,” “Hairspray” and “The Light in the Piazza,” for which he garnered a Tony nomination. “I feed off of the audience’s energy, and it allows me to get personal with my fans. Television is an amazing vehicle to help expose my talent to a much broader audience, but I will always appreciate my stage performances more.”

His fans here in San Diego will get a chance to see and hear him perform live Aug. 23 when he headlines the Salk Institute’s 19th annual Symphony at Salk. The fundraising event will feature Morrison accompanied by the San Diego Symphony, under the guidance of guest conductor Thomas Wilkins.

Morrison took some time from his schedule to answer some questions about his upcoming Salk performance, his music and what’s on his bucket list.

What can we expect from you at the Salk gala?

Live music on an outdoor stage always makes for a fantastic night out. I’m excited to visit San Diego — one of my favorite cities. And I’m thrilled to perform with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Audiences can expect a great selection of American standards — most of which were made famous on Broadway, but were also covered by some of the greats, like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, to name a few. And of course, I’ll have a number or two for all of my “Glee” fans. My goal at this show is to keep it both classy and fun, with music that both compliments a live symphony orchestra and that is familiar with those attending.

How did your theater experience help you prepare for your role on “Glee”?

“Glee” is such a unique show format for television in the sense that it does incorporate elements of live theater, including the fact that music helps drive the story lines. The role was such a natural transition for me. I think because of my theater experience, I was able to provide some good advice and techniques to those cast mates around me who didn’t come from a theater background.

What kind of music inspired you when you were growing up?

I grew up listening to the music of Broadway. I loved how each song illustrated such a detailed story and allowed the listener to be transported to a specific moment. Composers such as Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein truly had a talent of creating timeless material that transcended generations. Through my live shows, I really try to expose this rich material to audiences who may not be familiar with it. And who knows, perhaps the music I perform will serve as a source of inspiration to my younger audience.

Is there someone who really motivated you to become a singer/actor? Your family? A mentor?

I’m very grateful to have had some great people in my life who supported and encouraged my career path. One of my high-school mentors, Dr. Ralph Opacic, had a big influence on my decision making. In my junior year of high School, Ralph sat me down because I was faced with the dilemma of either focusing on athletics (soccer) or the arts. His words of encouragement to stick with the arts had a big effect on me, and I’m thankful to have had that conversation with him that day.

What is Matthew Morrison like away from the lights and glamour of Hollywood — what do you like to do to unwind?

My fiancé and I love to cook at home. It’s one of those experiences that you can really connect with friends and family. I also enjoy running and practicing yoga. Both help clear my head and keep me focused on my projects.

What was your most recent iTunes download?

Most recent download is probably Sam Smith’s new album. So good!

What song would we be most surprised to find on your iPod?

I was really into rap and hip hop when I was a teenager. I used to enjoy breakdancing on a piece of cardboard with my friends. I have Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Easy E all on my iPod. And it always puts a nostalgic smile to my face whenever those songs come on.

Describe an ideal day off — when you’re not performing or taping?

I love nature. Getting out for a nice hike or run is priceless to me. Especially if I’m out surrounded by trees.

What’s on your bucket list that you’re dying to do next?

Hopefully to have some little ones running around within the next five years! Always wanted to experience being a father.

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