“I’m singing from the standards, so there are a lot of great love songs in there,” Morrison said in recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “I’m excited to share the love.”
The song-and-dance man of Broadway, film and TV fame is performing with a jazzy five-piece band on a tour that comes to the Wheeler Opera House on Tuesday.
Morrison’s concerts offer a mix of material from his stage and screen career — from TV’s “Glee” and Broadway’s “Finding Neverland,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” — along with his charming spin on the classics of American song and some originals from his self-titled 2011 album.
“I always feel like I was born in the wrong era,” said Morrison, 38. “I love the standards and all they represent and the gorgeous storytelling they did back in the day.”
Morrison complements the crooning with a strong dance element in his concerts (“I’ll be strutting my stuff all over that stage”). The California native, who made his Broadway debut in “Footloose” and got his star turn as Link in “Hairspray,” has become one of the world’s leading musical theater actors, while also winning over the masses as teacher Will Schuester on the television show “Glee,” earning Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nods along the way.
Morrison looks back on his time on “Glee” with pride.
“The further I get away from it, the more I realize how special it was,” he said. “I could have been on any show and played a cop or a lawyer or something, but this is a show that I actually played an inspirational teacher.”
The enormously popular and acclaimed “Glee” shifted the culture not only for musicals — it’s no stretch to say it helped pave the way for a pop culture landscape where “La La Land” is a frontrunner for a Best Picture Oscar and “Hamilton” is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon — but also moved the needle for gay rights and marriage equality.
“The way it spoke to the LGBT community, at a very important time in our history — I see a family sitting down and watching ‘Glee’ together and then they turn off the TV and they have a conversation about what they just saw,” Morrison reflected. “There was a lesson in every episode. For that, I’m truly grateful.”
Cutting his teeth on Broadway, where the eight-show-a-week grind tests the stamina of the most gifted of singers and actors, prepared Morrison for hitting the road as a solo act. The strength of his voice has earned him some challenging roles — playing J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland,” for example, he performed a dozen songs every night. So doing 15 or 16 on this national tour isn’t as daunting as it might be otherwise.
“I think Broadway is the best preparation for anyone doing anything,” he said. “All that training has built up my stamina to do something like this. … It’s what I was born to do. It’s my favorite thing to do.”
Touring with a catalog of throwback tunes scratches a creative itch that Morrison isn’t likely to lose, though he won’t resist the siren song of Hollywood.
“My love for the stage will always be there, that’s my number one place that I love to be,” Morrison said. “But at this point in my career, I feel like I want to be doing more in front of the camera. This is the heyday of television.”
From here, along with touring, Morrison hopes to continue being a part of what many have dubbed a “golden age” of television — he had a recurring role on the last season of “The Good Wife” and has more projects in the works. He’s also at work on producing and starring in an original Broadway musical and has been work-shopping Stephen Sondheim’s new “Bunuel.” On the big screen, fans can see Morrison in the costume drama “Tulip Fever,” due out next month.
Putting together a solo concert has also forced Morrison to play himself onstage — a relatively new role for the actor, and one he’s growing into.
“You can always hide behind a character,” he said. “With something like this, you have to trust yourself and know yourself and be confident. You can’t hide. That’s been therapeutic and it’s something I’ve learned to find great joy in.”
Matthew Morrison didn’t get a chance to sing and dance Thursday night as much as he might have in one of his more traditional concert programs, but audiences got to know a lot more about him during his performance with accompanist and interviewer Seth Rudetsky at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The show was a combination concert (with Rudetsky at the piano) and Q&A session, with Rudetsky interviewing Morrison the way he might one of his guests on his Sirius XM programs on the Broadway channel.
Between songs, Rudetsky and Morrison sat in armchairs in a faux living room setting for a bit of conversation that allowed us to see the personal side of Morrison. Under Rudetsky’s comical yet earnestly curious prodding, Morrison talked about falling in love with theater at age 10 when he was staying in Arizona with relatives who sent all the kids to a summer theater camp.
He also admitted to being in a quasi “gang” that spray-painted buildings in junior high school in Orange County. “In Orange County?” Rudetsky asked. “What did you spray paint, Disneyland?”
The questions had Morrison blushing at times, which just made him, and the program, seem more genuine, charming and gracious.
And that same sense of charm comes out in this song and dance man’s easy, almost effortless performing style. He grew up idolizing Gene Kelly, and eventually got to live out his dream by appearing or starring in seven Broadway shows and playing school choir director Will Schuester in the Fox hit “Glee.”
The musical part of his program included several songs from his studio album “Where it all Began,” in which he displayed a clear and pleasing voice on such songs as “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Younger than Springtime” from “South Pacific,” in which he starred in a Broadway revival. And his tone was pure and sweet, singing a song from his Tony-nominated role in “The Light in the Piazza.”
He moves with grace and polish and can still hit the high notes even when he’s a bit breathless.
He also talked about his skills as a breakdancer, and his days in both a fake boy band performing skits on David Letterman’s “The Late Show,” and the early days of a real one called LMNT. He hated it, he said, because “it was so fake. There was no art in it.”
His passion for live theater was always clear. Even when he was doing “Glee” and building a wide fan base around the world, Morrison longed to be back on stage. He went on a concert tour around the time of his first album just to have a live stage fix. And as soon as the show’s run ended in 2015, he went right back to Broadway to play writer J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland.”
Morrison closed the show with an extended medley of songs from “Hairspray,” in which he created the role of Link Larkin. The songs kept him moving and swiveling his hips with flair and getting the audience to clap along.
And Rudetsky was right there with him, as much fan as performer. He admitted to recently undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon on one of his biceps, and said that Thursday’s show was his first time being allowed to play the piano in more than a month. You’d never have known.
Most people know Matthew Morrison as the young teacher Will “Mr. Schue” Schuester from the hit TV show “Glee.” But he’s also got a more classic set of influences.
“I’m just trying to emulate my idol, Gene Kelly,” he says. “I’m trying to bring back the modern song-and-dance man to our generation.”
Morrison, 38, is touring the country backed by a jazz band for an evening of standards and favorites, including a performance Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. With his smooth tenor, the “versatile, hard-driving musical frontiersman,” as the New York Times pegs him, pulls from all the different work he’s done over the years.
The “retrospective show” includes an eight-minute medley of songs from the Broadway production of “Hairspray,” during which he runs through the entire story and some “Glee” moments, as well.
“Today’s music is all about coming up with a cool beat,” says Morrison, who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York. “With standards, the classic songwriters of the day would take music and lyrics and tell a story. That’s why I love these songs, because I get to put myself into different characters and really put on a show.”
As the only child of Army nurses, Morrison — who was born at Fort Ord, which closed in 1994 and reopened as Cal State Monterey Bay — discovered musical theater at age 10.
He was living in Orange County when his parents sent him to family in Arizona for the summer.
According to Morrison, “they didn’t really want to deal with me and my cousin so they threw us in a play.”
He was hooked.
After nearly a decade of children’s theater, Orange County High School of the Arts and New York University, he made his Broadway debut in “Footloose.” But his big break came when we was cast as heartthrob Link Larkin in the original Broadway production of “Hairspray.”
More recently he starred in the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” and workshopped Stephen Sondheim’s next musical with the working title “Buñuel” after the Spanish director Luis Buñuel.
Though he’s most comfortable performing for a live audience, Morrison says he likes putting in time in front of the camera.
“These shows and concerts have really allowed me time to read a lot of scripts and go after what I want to do,” he says. “I don’t have to go and jump into a TV show that I don’t want to do because I need the money. It’s such a blessing on so many different levels.”
Look for him as a philandering drunkard in Tom Stoppard’s “Tulip Fever,” a period piece set in Amsterdam during the so-called “Tulip mania” of 1636, when the market for trading tulip bulbs soared to such large sums of money that it inevitably led to a spectacular crash of the Dutch economy.
The film’s star-studded cast includes Oscar winners Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench. It arrives in theaters Feb. 24.
From the moment Broadway and television star Matthew Morrison, as a kid, saw Gene Kelly on the silver screen, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“You’re either an Astaire guy or a Gene Kelly person. … Gene Kelly was the proletariat, the working man,” Morrison explains. “He was just such a man when he was dancing, and that’s what I wanted to emulate.”
The triple threat is adding a third act to his already thriving career with a series of solo concert engagements around the world, including one at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
For Morrison, it’s a chance to carry the torch of Kelly’s legacy into a more intimate and personal setting. While most solo Broadway concert gigs feature a performer singing their heart out on a stool, Morrison brings his signature hoofing into the act. “A big part of my show is dance,” he says.
Morrison rose to fame as the affable, inspiring choir teacher Will Schuester on Fox’s Glee, but theater and live performance have always been his first loves. “It’s like oxygen for me,” he says. Before and after the hit musical television show, Morrison made a career on the Broadway stage – originating the roles of Link Larkin in Hairspray and Fabrizio Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza, and portraying the hunky, morally conflicted Lieutenant Cable in the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Featuring songs from these career highlights, as well as many other jazz and Broadway standards, Morrison’s show tells the actor’s story through song (and dance). “My career is so diverse because I am not just a TV actor or a film actor or a Broadway actor,” he explains.
From South Pacific ballads to an eight-minute song-and-dance medley inspired by Hairspray, Morrison will span the gamut of his career in a mixture of song and dance accompanied by a jazz band (in other venues he’s joined by a symphony orchestra). “Honestly, the biggest appeal for me is being myself. Whenever I do other shows, I’m always playing a character,” he says. “I get to be myself and tell my stories. It’s just a real journey, and it’s my journey, so that’s something I like to share with people.”
The Broadway veteran likens the process of constructing his solo concert to the work of a stand-up comedian, from deciding on a concept for the arc of the show to perfecting the final version. “Like a stand-up comic, you’re constantly working your show, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, throw out this joke, add this one,” he says. “So it’s been a work in progress over the past year, really trying to hone it in.”
Morrison says he aims to create a show with a flexible and diverse range, working in up-tempo songs and never letting it sink under the weight of too many ballads. When it comes to choosing the songs themselves, he says he generally just selects his favorite and then adjusts the set list order to create a fluid performance. Many of the musicals he’s showcasing, including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza, feature multiple solo numbers. In that case, Morrison says he selects the song that best suits his voice, rather than his favorite.
But there’s one song he can’t shake: My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” has been his favorite song most of his life, growing and shifting with him. “That song is one of the first songs I ever sang at school, it’s the song that’s followed me my whole career,” he says. “I’ve sang it at almost every audition I’ve ever done. I booked Glee with that song. And the song has changed for me over the years. It used to be the young guy yearning … but now that I’m married, it’s become more like I’ve gone through the journey, and I will always remain here for you, being your rock.”
Morrison also tries to include songs or moments in his set that speak to each city where he’s performing. He hasn’t settled on what that will be for Los Angeles yet, but says it’s an issue of narrowing it down. His Los Angeles engagement is a homecoming of sorts. The actor grew up in Orange County, attending the renowned Orange County High School of the Arts, and he still leads a bicoastal life, maintaining a home in sunny L.A. “I just love being home here,” he says. “My home here really feels like a home. New York, it’s all apartment living, so it’s very tight quarters. It’s nice to actually walk around and have a nice big kitchen to cook in.”
While he’s thrilled to be back in his California home and in proximity to favorite restaurants and Runyon Canyon, Morrison is most excited to be able to do a live show that friends and family can attend: “It’s rare that I get to come back to Los Angeles. … A lot of friends are going to be able to see what I’ve been doing with my life for the past couple years.”
Morrison also has committed to giving back to his hometown. He regularly visits high schools and college campuses to teach master classes and answer students’ questions, particularly at his alma mater in Orange County. He is part of a group using the Orange County High School of the Arts as a model to open similar schools in the San Gabriel Valley and San Diego County. Morrison says they hope to expand to schools nationwide.
“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the high level, high quality of teaching and learning that I got at that school,” he says. “I owe so much of my success to that school that I want to pay it forward and continue to reach out to the younger generation.” He fondly recalls when Broadway performer Susan Egan (she originated Belle in Disney’s theatrical production of Beauty and the Beast) came to his high school, and he got to dance with her. Morrison says he wants to pass along that experience to the next generation of performers and the reminder that at one time he was just like them, learning from Broadway greats and aspiring to be one. “I’m Mr. Schuester,” he jokes, “I’ve gotta keep the legend alive.”
Not only has Glee brought in a youthful audience to Morrison’s solo shows, but in general it has sparked a resurgence of interest in the Broadway musical. Thanks to cultural phenomenons such as Glee and Hamilton, musical theater is no longer languishing in the shadows as a niche interest. Morrison says he hasn’t noticed it from the inside of the process (“It’s the same experience being a performer”), but that box office numbers and the general interest in musicals has increased. “It’s a great time for Broadway,” he says, “but, on the inside, I feel like it’s still the same tight-knit, great community.”
Morrison hopes his concerts help perpetuate interest in both musical theater and the Great American Songbook. “It was the height of storytelling,” he says. “Today with music, a lot of people are just trying to come up with a cool beat. … We’ve lost that true songwriting in a lot of ways. Back then, it was so simple. You take music and lyrics, and you tell a story, and that was the basis of everything.”
When your concert is about telling your life story, it’s helpful to have a set list that does it for you. “It’s so easy to sing these songs because I really fall into the acting of them,” he says. “They’re so easy to act because they’re really just great stories. When I hear a standard, I almost don’t want the song to end because I just want the story to keep going.”
When it’s Morrison telling the story, it’s hard not to feel the same way.
Matthew Morrison at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.; $75-$115. thebroadstage.com.
Matthew Morrison learned long ago to be prepared for every performance, but there’s only so much he can do when he’s not exactly sure what’s going to happen when he shares the stage with Seth Rudetsky at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Thursday.
Morrison is best known for major roles in the Broadway musicals “The Light in the Piazza,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and, most recently “Finding Neverland,” and he earned an army of fans as Will Schuester, the teacher who resurrects the long-abandoned high school glee club on the hit series “Glee.” He also had a recurring role on the final season of “The Good Wife” and has earned Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations for his roles.
Rudetsky might be dubbed “Mr. Broadway.” He has played keyboards in the orchestra of numerous musicals, been an accompanist for countless stars in concerts, is an arranger, Playbill columnist, blogger and the co-creator of last season’s Tony-nominated musical “Disaster.” A former writer for Rosie O’Donnell’s daytime talk show, he’s also one of the main hosts of the Sirius XM Broadway channel, and has twice come to Sarasota to help the Van Wezel announce its Broadway series.
The Van Wezel concert will be a low-key affair, with Rudetsky accompanying the song and dance man, and interviewing him in between songs.
“It’s nerve-wracking and fun because I don’t know what to expect,” Morrison said. “I’m usually very methodical with my shows and how to lay them all out and talking points. This is more off the cuff and does add an element of surprise and gets my nerves going and I like that. It makes me feel alive.”
For Rudetsky, it’s just another day on the job. He frequently interviews the creators and performers of Broadway shows on his radio programs.
Rudetsky said that Morrison will perform songs from his Broadway shows, among other songs, and in between “I’ll ask him questions about the shows, and stories that I’ve heard about. I have no idea where we’re going to go. I’m very interested myself in knowing the answers. I love Broadway history. It’s going to be like the audience is hanging out with us in our living room, talking about whatever I want to talk about.”
Rudetsky said the format, which he’s done with such artists as Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley and Andrea Martin, helps keeps the programs light and spontaneous and also gets the singers to open up.
“A lot of people don’t like talking about themselves, but they need to appreciate their own careers as they’re talking, they’ll realize that it’s so cool that I experienced that.”
Morrison said that “Glee” changed the trajectory of his career. Before that Fox series had its debut, “if you didn’t live in the New York community, you probably didn’t know who I was, whereas now with ‘Glee’ being such a huge international show, you’re traveling all over the world and people are recognizing you. I’m just so happy as an actor. ‘Glee’ was so special in a moment in our history and it changed peoples’ lives. It taught a lot about bullying. People could connect to some of the characters, the messages were so strong, and it was so special to be part of something that was monumental and really had an effect on people.”
The Broadway veteran and “Glee” star comes to the Kimmel Center.
For most television viewers, Matthew Morrison will always be the earnest, but wrongheaded teacher in Ryan Murphy’s colorful television series “Glee.” For anyone with a background in Broadway and musical theater however, Morrison was the dashing leading man from stage hits such as “The Light in the Piazza,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and, most recently, “Finding Neverland.” That dancing and singing guy is the Morrison Sirius-XM radio host Seth Rudetsky will bring to the Kimmel Center for the next show of his “Broadway Up Close” series on December 17. In improvisational talk show fashion, Rudetsky will fire off questions then play piano beside Morrison without much warning as to what will come next.
“Glee”had such an enormous, ingratiating presence for so long that your character has to now be both a blessing and a curse. Do people expect you to be this always cheerful, empathetic person? His intentions were good, and it’s fortunate that as happy-go-lucky a character as he was, I too am an upbeat guy. It only backfires when I’m not in a good mood, or want alone time, and someone asks for those selfies with you. That said, it was nice to be on a show that was so special, that had a voice, that said something such as “Glee” did. As an actor, I’ve been on lawyer shows and cop shows and those are great, and I am glad to do them, but “Glee” had messages, and we changed a lot of lives. That is not lost on me, and I will always cherish my time on that show.
Are you friends with Seth? What did he promise you about coming down to Philly? We are great friends, and he is a shining light when it comes to all that goes on within the Broadway community. He is our mouthpiece. His shows are unlike any shows you can take on – anything can happen. Me, I like to come in and be very prepared when I do my concerts. Know exactly what I’m going to do. With Seth, it is a free-for-all. First, we’ll sit and do an interview, then hit the piano and sing, then back again; never knowing what to expect from him. You get an honest, raw performance when you don’t know for sure what will come next.
Having witnessed you in concert, you’re usually chewing up the scenery and singing and acting in character? Since you won’t know what lies ahead, will you still play a role? I like losing that control and I do relish my characterization, and will do my best to get those in. Since he is interviewing me though, I’ll have a chance – I hope – to reveal more personal sides of me — my deepest darkest stories. Then again, I’m not sure what he is going to ask so it could be anything. I have been so fortunate to have such a multi-faceted career, that we could go anywhere. It should allow me to have perspective. Then again, I’m not showy or braggart-y so this is a great opportunity.
Ducking backwards…. OK, I was young and I needed the money.
No, really, what was your first favorite song to sing, the one where you totally connected with the lyric and the melody? I think it would have to be “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady.” It was one of the first musical theater songs that I had to do in junior high. I just immediately felt this connection to it, being this young man, a hopeless romantic, just looking up at the window of this girl he’s crushing on, wanting to be close to this woman. It still has resonance today, even as I’m married – that urgency of lust and passion for the woman you love. It takes me back and brings me forward. Now, that’s a good song.
Sat. Dec 17, 8 p.m., Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S Broad St. kimmelcenter.org
He’s won hearts—and critical acclaim—as everyone’s favorite teacher on television hit Glee, and been nominated for two Drama Desk awards for portraying Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie in Broadway’s Finding Neverland. What role will Matthew Morrison be playing when he comes to the Van Wezel Jan. 12?
Apparently, mostly himself. Morrison’s appearance here will be “kind of impromptu,” the actor said in an interview. “I did this before with [composer-musician-radio host] Seth Rudetsky, and half of the show is more of an interview with me. Then Seth gets over to the piano and starts riffing off some songs that were in shows and musicals I’ve done in the past. But he can throw me a loop sometimes, so you never know for sure what will happen.”
One thing that has been pretty certain through Morrison’s life: a show business career. “I was big into soccer as a kid, and I also thought I might go into the medical field, since both of my parents were,” he says. “But then my dad, who was a midwife, took me to work one day and I saw babies being born, all the blood, etc. I thought I’d stick to performing.”
He was encouraged by a mentor at the Orange County High School of the Arts, who told him, “‘I feel a lot of potential in you’,” he recalls. “That made me really think about a career as an actor.”
Morrison headed to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he studied for two years before dropping out and joining the Broadway cast of Footloose. Other roles that came his way were in a revival of The Rocky Horror Showand his big break as heartthrob Link Larkin in Hairspray. Since then, besides his turns on Glee and in Finding Neverland, he’s also appeared in the musical The Light in the Piazza (scoring a Tony nomination) and as Lieutenant Cable in a Lincoln Center production of South Pacific.
What kind of roles does he gravitate to? “Ten years ago, I would have said whatever role I could get,” he laughs. “Now that I’m older and more established, a role has to be really worth taking the time away from my family.” Married in 2014, Morrison says he and his wife are definitely planning to have kids sometime soon.
“This year’s been a lot of travel, but that is something I love to do,” he says. “I love exploring new people and places, and I’m lucky I get to do a job that includes travel. But I want to do more of it with my wife.”
Morrison says the stage is his first love, and that’s why he enjoys doing shows like the one at the Van Wezel, “being up there entertaining people.” But Glee, he says, was special, “because I was part of a TV show that stood for something. We got to bring music into people’s living rooms and talk about hot button issues; we had a voice, and we used it.”—Kay Kipling
For tickets to the Morrison/Rudetsky show, call 953-3368 or go to vanwezel.org.
After a successful first season, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has announced the 2016-17 lineup for Broadway Up Close, hosted by Sirius XM Radio Star Seth Rudetsky. Formerly known as the Seth Rudetsky Broadway Concert Series, the Broadway Up Close concert series will consist of four performances featuring renowned actors from the stage and screen.
This season’s lineup will include Tony Award winners Chita Rivera and Alice Ripley, the Tony, Emmy & Golden Globe nominated star of Glee, Matthew Morrison, and Grammy, Tony & Emmy nominated star Vanessa Williams. Broadway Up Close is presented in association with Mark Cortale Productions.
“This new season of Broadway Up Close adds another layer to our fabulous Broadway programming by providing access to the best of Broadway in our intimate Perelman Theater,” said Anne Ewers, President and CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. “These cabaret-style performances, hosted by the incomparable Seth Rudetsky, give audiences an opportunity to experience Broadway as the title implies, up close, through song and stories from their favorite artists.”
In a new BuzzFeed quiz, fans can determine which of the stars they identify with, based on the roles that made each famous. The quiz can be accessed here.
The 2016-17 Broadway Up Close season will consist of the following performances: Matthew Morrison on Saturday, December 17, 2016; Vanessa Williams on Saturday, January 21, 2017; Alice Ripley on Saturday, May 6, 2017; and Chita Rivera on Saturday, June 3, 2017. All performances in the Broadway Up Close season will take place in the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts with the exception of Chita Rivera, which will take place at the Merriam Theater. A full schedule of dates and venues follows.