Oozing charm, exuding confidence and with a sense of effortless style, Broadway’s song-and-dance man Matthew Morrison makes his Music City debut in a three-night stand at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, backed by the Grammy Award-winning musicians of the Nashville Symphony under the baton of conductor Steven Jarvi.
Morrison’s performance covers a number of songs made famous by him on Broadway – and in other genres by other entertainers – with each tune segueing nicely from one to another with requisite polish and the thoroughly accessible personality that allows him to gain entre into the collective audience of his attentive audience. Handsome and easy-going, Morrison’s matinee idol good looks might be disarming, but it’s his obvious talents that is sure to win over more adoring fans to his camp.
Morrison, whose laudable and noteworthy Broadway tenure includes Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific and, most recently, Finding Neverland draws on his wealth of stage experience to delight his Nashville audiences, while never letting them even for the briefest moment forget that he starred in TV’s Glee, the Ryan Murphy juggernaut that made high school showchoirs and mashups of popular songs part of the pop culture zeitgeist of the 21st century.
Bounding onto the stage in the best manner of nightclub performers and concert artists who’ve claimed the Great American Songbook as their inspiration, Morrison delivers a 90-minute show that’s energetic and entertaining, filled with reminiscences of his life and career and featuring some of the best-known tunes to be found in the catalog of 20th century pop, jazz and Broadway classics. Opening with “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and closing with an extended set of songs from his first Broadway hit Hairspray (he was the show’s original Link Larkin on the Great White Way) – and with a plethora of tunes, most beloved and familiar, in between (including a swell version of Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp” that I could listen to on a loop from now to doom’s day and never regret it for a second), Morrison shows off the talents that have set him apart among male performers of his generation and background.
Telling us in an interview prior to his Nashville stand, Morrison admitted he may have been born in the wrong era, so strongly does he identify with the musical standards that have drawn a wide range of song stylists to them over the years. Onstage, he approaches the material with an easy grace and effortless charm that helps these familiar tunes sound fresh, if not completely new, ushering his audience into their own reverie of memories in a way that only the best melodies can do.
Each song in Morrison’s repertoire seems personally curated to represent times in his life that resonate beautifully both for performer and audience: “Singin’ in the Rain” allows him to pay homage to his personal idol Gene Kelly; “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and “Some Enchanted Evening” recall his stint in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival (but where was “Younger Than Springtime,” I wonder, particularly since his character – Lt. Joe Cable – performs it in the context of the show); and his jazz-influenced “On the Street Where You Live” harkens back to “every audition I’ve ever done since high school.”
Perhaps the most heartfelt performance comes during his rendition of “As Long As She Needs Me” from Oliver! that is beautifully expressive and sweetly evocative with being at all cloying or expected. Yet, easily, Morrison is most impressive (ensuring every eye is riveted upon him as he sings) with Adam Guettel‘s exquisite “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” from The Light in the Piazza, which the singer/actor maintains to this day — whether in his onstage patter or in a private conversation — is his most challenging role to date.
Joined onstage by a ten-member ensemble of student singers from Summit High School, Morrison pays tribute both to his time on Glee and his first record album to perform a pair of songs by Sir Elton John: a mashup of “Mona Lisa,” “Mad Hatters” and “Rocket Man” that exemplifies John’s vast catalog of songs, just as easily as it showcases Morrison’s vocal stylings.
Jarvi and the Nashville Symphony open the performance with a medley of songs from West Side Story, which sound as lush and as beautiful as ever and start the evening off with the appropriate sense of theatrical fare. But what’s with the white dinner jackets? According to my calendar, at least, Easter is still more than a week away!