“Glee” may be over but Matthew Morrison’s been busy. After shooting the final, sixth season of the Fox series, good ole Mr. Schue got married (last fall in Hawaii). Now he’s back on Broadway, where he got his start.
Morrison and Kelsey Grammer co-star in “Finding Neverland,” a new musical about the creation of Peter Pan, directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus, opening April 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The tale, based in part on real events (and the 2004 Johnny Depp film), is set in 1904, as Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (Morrison) struggles to write a new play to make up for a previous flop. He dreams up the iconic uber-boy Peter Pan after meeting a widow (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four sons, and the villainous Captain Hook, inspired by his producer Charles Frohman (Emmy-winner Grammer plays both producer and pirate).
A California native, Morrison, 36, debuted on Broadway as a breakdancer in “Footloose,” later co-starring in “Hairspray” and “South Pacific.” He met with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio in his dressing room after a recent performance.
This is quite a workout. You almost never leave the stage, and the choreography has you tossed about like a rag doll.
It’s tough. Every day there’s a new bruise on me, and I don’t even know how it got there. My wife, she’s like what are you doing? I don’t think I’ll have to go to the gym this year. This is my gym. But it’s also such a workout vocally.
Singing eight shows a week.
I haven’t done that in seven years. And I’m doing 12 numbers — which I’ve never done before. I’ve always played supporting roles, never the lead. But I couldn’t have asked for a better show. I really wanted my Broadway return to be special — this is my favorite community, the people I love and respect more than anyone else. So I want to do right by everyone.
What’s it like working with the four boys of the show?
Who said . . . never perform with kids and animals?
Exactly. And we have both! But they’re so special. For some, this is like their third Broadway show. It blows me away.
Have you learned anything from them?
Absolutely. The show is about finding the child inside yourself. [He flashes a mischievous smile.] Sometimes I like to switch it up a little, surprise them, do something a little stupid to make the boys laugh a little. That’s what Barrie would’ve done. I try to be spontaneous. [He chuckles.] Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Why do you think you caught the acting bug when you were a kid?
I’m an army brat, so we moved around a lot. I was always meeting new people, then going away. So this is really the perfect life for me.
Did moving around make you cautious, distant?
No, I connected to people right away — I make friends fast. I just had to learn to be OK with leaving. Now I have friends all over the country. Theater is like that, too. I have a few friends I take from each show and we stay in touch.
You and Kelsey Grammer seem to be pretty chummy onstage.
He’s so funny. Tonight, actually — this has never happened — but in his big number, “Play,” he forgot the words at the opening. So he just went up to the music director and said, “Uhhh, let’s just stop and start over.” Kelsey can get away with that. It’s interesting — he’s such a softie. In the finale, we’re holding these beautiful notes and I can hear him behind me, choking up. This show I think is very personal to him. He has two young kids — and his daughter’s name is Faith. And there’s this line in the song, “Faith will give you wings,” and he chokes up every time. He’s incredible . . . a great, great man. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and knowing that someone you respect like that is so giving onstage is . . . it’s just . . . I dunno. It’s so different in TV. In theater, you’re connected to the people around you — because if you mess up onstage, you have to work together to figure your way out. You can’t just call cut. [He laughs.] Well, unless you’re Kelsey.
Congrats, by the way — how’s married life? Does it feel different?
Completely. I have guy friends who talk about, “Ohhh, the old ball-and-chain,” feeling tied down. But I’ve never felt more free. I get to go home to someone, my best friend, and can be completely myself. I got my fun out of the way in my 20s, so I feel like I was in such a good place to get married. I definitely waited for the right person.