As the irrepressible “Mr Schue”, Matthew Morrison inspires the talented students of McKinley High School to live out their musical dreams on stage.
Now the Glee actor is hoping to launch his own international network of performing arts schools to combat cuts in music provision which he fears could prevent a generation of youngsters from achieving their potential.
The hit US series Glee, in which a gaggle of precocious students perform spectacular reinventions of classic songs under the tutelage of Morrison’s character Will Schuester, has encouraged a generation of teenagers to form their own choral societies.
But the Tony and Golden Globe-nominated star, 34, has disclosed his plan to create real-life “Glee schools”. “My focus is on arts education. I’m trying to create an accredited school programme that would go nationwide and hopefully global eventually,” he said. “It’s kind of modelled after the performing arts school I went to [New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts]. It would be great to have one in London. It’s something I’d like to talk to Andrew Lloyd Webber about.”
In the latest series of Glee, now shown on Sky, Mr Schuester goes to Washington to lobby politicians on the importance of arts education. It is a passion which drives the actor in real life. “I don’t know why music is the first thing to get cut,” said Morrison, who spoke to students at Highbury Grove School in north London during his visit to the capital this week.
“I am the product of a public arts education and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t found that passion at a young age. I think it’s a shame and a travesty to cut that stuff.”
Morrison is working on “an accredited programme”. “You’d have to keep up the grades to be involved,” he said. “It would have a big element of under-privileged kids, I think that’s important. It’s also been proven that music helps you in science and maths.”
Morrison’s classes will teach aspirants how to deliver a tune, an endangered skill. “There’s something about storytelling that’s been lost in music,” he said. “A lot of people go on talent shows and even though they can be great singers, it’s more about vocal acrobatics – let’s go to the circus. They should be worried about ‘what am I singing about? What is the meaning of this song?’ When I’m on stage I go into a different character almost for every song, and treat it like a monologue. I feel like I’m really acting these songs. I feel that’s been lost a little bit.” Morrison, who was born in California, built his career on the New York stage and is using a hiatus during Glee to release an album of show tunes and Broadway standards, Where It All Began. Its swinging interpretations of “Singin’ In The Rain” and a duet with Smokey Robinson are designed to bring the songs a new audience.
But the actor, whose big break was starring in Hairspray on Broadway, fears the overnight sensations created through talent shows like The Voice UK, which reaches its climax tonight, lack the chops to build a career. “Those shows make it look so easy,” he said. “A lot of people on them like singing but they want to be stars. They’re in it for the wrong reasons.
“What scares me about these shows is that a lot of people aren’t properly trained so they’re wrecking their voices because they don’t know how to sing properly. There’s something about paying your dues and going through rejection. I was very excited when I got a Broadway role where my character actually had a name. Now I’m on a global TV show and I’m a lot more recognisable, but I think that I’ve earned it.”
Morrison is proud Glee has placed issues like teenage homosexuality and bullying at the heart of a network drama. He has become a vocal advocate for gay rights, and wishes more of straight actors like him would raise their voices too. “I just think it’s ridiculous that a loving and committed gay or lesbian couple can’t get married just because they’re different. The case is more impactful when it comes from a straight person because the people you’re trying to persuade may not buy into it when they see a gay person talking.”
Morrison, who hopes to settle down with his model girlfriend Renee Puente, said that even among his generation of actors, “there’s still a lot of people who are afraid to come out.”
Glee, a hit from its 2009 launch, has been picked up for two more seasons, with Morrison tied in for the option of a seventh year. “I have missed opportunities to do some films,” admits the actor who starred alongside Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez in the recent film What To Expect When You’re Expecting. “But it’s a lot of actors’ dream of getting steady employment like this. I’m not complaining.”
Morrison says that when Glee does end he will return to the stage, with a West End debut top of his wish-list. “I’m trying to find the right project and the West End is being talked about right now. Willy Wonka? [in Sam Mendes’s new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical]. Gosh what a great role. I can’t wait to see it. I’ll have a word with Sam.”