SANTA ANA – Twenty years ago, a teenage boy named Matt was starting his senior year at a performing arts high school near his family home in Cypress. Today, that self-proclaimed “theater kid” has thousands of on-stage and on-screen performances under his belt, as well as Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award nominations.
Matthew Morrison, Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) class of 1997, is a Broadway and television actor known for his roles as Link Larkin in the original Broadway cast of “Hairspray” and Will Schuester in the six-years run of “Glee” on Fox.
But before all that, Morrison was an OCSA student just like the 40 student artists who will perform with him on Saturday.
“I would be nothing if I hadn’t come to this school,” Morrison said. “I always tell these kids, ‘I was you.’ The training here (at OCSA) was incomparable. It’s the cornerstone of my career.”
When Morrison and the OCSA performers take the stage at Balboa Bay Resort this weekend, they will kick off a year-long celebration of the school’s 30th anniversary. The sold-out beachfront concert will take place in front of more than 300 guests at sundown and include a medley of songs that Morrison has performed throughout his career.
“When I first heard about this, I was in complete shock,” said junior Raquel Glasser. “I know (Morrison) from watching ‘Glee’ on T.V. and I’ll probably be shaking with excitement when we perform.”
Glasser, who is part of the Commercial Dance Conservatory program at OCSA will perform a dance to “Singing in the Rain” with Morrison and her classmate, junior Makayla Gordon.
“OCSA has always been a dream come true and the teachers here always encourage us to go after what we want,” Glasser said. “Matthew Morrison is an excellent example of that.”
The faculty and staff at OCSA seeks to prepare students academically for higher education, while also training aspiring artists to pursue a profession in the arts. Their guidance has helped support artists such as Susan Egan (class of 1988) and recent Netflix sensation Justice Smith (class of 2013) in their creative endeavors.
Morrison, who during his early years of high school thought maybe he should be a soccer player instead of an actor, was encouraged by OCSA’s president and executive director Ralph Opacic to strongly consider a performance career.
And so far, it seems to have been a good choice, Morrison said.
“It’s important to have places like this that nurture talent and let it grow,” said Morrison. “It’s not just technical training, there is a confidence that they instill in you. I mean, I don’t think I could have moved to New York City at 18 years old without that confidence.”
“Pure Imagination,” which is part of the school’s theme for the 30th year, means teachers and students alike should “think big,” Peca said. “Big” like performing with stars as well-known as Morrison.
“Coming to OCSA was the best decision I have made in my life,” said senior Jared Machado. “We have a good set of tools, and seeing someone like Matthew Morrison and his career just proves that we can totally do this if we work hard.”
The students said they admire Morrison’s talent and work ethic, but also the fact that he is giving back to the community that got him where he is now.
“His sheer talent is amazing, but he is so nice and down to earth. Honestly, I would love to get anywhere near that,” said Machado. “Opportunities like this make being a part of OCSA so special and the way we keep growing, I know (OCSA) will go way into its 50th anniversary.”
More pictures in the gallery (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)