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.
In just a few days, Matthew Morrison will take the stage at New York’s iconic Rainbow Room. When you think about Morrison’s smooth voice against the incomparable backdrop provided by the Rainbow Room’s view of New York City at night, you wonder why this hasn’t happened sooner. Morrison told ABC News he is excited about performing in the venue for the first time.
“It’s like a dream come true for me. I can’t wait,” said Morrison.
But it’s not just usual attractions of the famous venue that has him pumped up. The Rainbow Room holds special memories for the Morrison family.
“Growing up I knew the Rainbow Room because my dad proposed to my mom on top of the Empire State Building,” Morrison said. “And then he took her to dinner at the Rainbow Room. So I’ve always known it as this great magical place filled with romance and elegance.”
Many fortunate enough to experience the Rainbow Room also recollect it with a special fondness. Now Morrison plans to do his part to create more great memories for those in the audience.
“I think probably I’m going to sing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from ‘South Pacific,'” he said. “That kind of sets the mood for the whole night.”
To chat with Morrison, you’d think he’s just the guy next door, not the star adored by fans around the world. Who could forget his roles in the hit TV series “Glee” or his many appearances on Broadway, including in the iconic musical “Hairspray”?
“I always try to not let the business define who I am and I try to have my own identity,” Morrison said. “And I am a laid-back kind of just, appreciative guy. And I work a lot of crazy hours and do a lot of crazy things. But I’m very passionate about what I do. At the end of the day, you just strive to be a good human being and always try to give back. That’s my motto.”
For those regulars who follow Morrison from venue to venue, he has some surprises planned for this special performance.
“The Rainbow Room, it’s historic, it’s elegant, it’s iconic. And it’s just a place I want to get up and party and then get the party going,” Morrison said. “So I’m going have some more contemporary hits that people can actually get up and dance to. I don’t know if it’s that kind of place where the staff would want people to dance. But I’m going try to get people to dance.”
Morrison added, “This is going to be a special show because I’m going to have a full band with me. I have horn players. I have great friends who are going to sing backup for me. I’m pulling out all the stops for this one.”
Morrison can be seen at The Rainbow Room on Monday night, Oct. 24.
WOWOW, Japan’s leading premium pay TV broadcaster, announced today that Matthew Morrison (“Finding Neverland” “South Pacific,” “Hairspray”), Kelli O’Hara (“The King and I”) and well-known Japanese actor Yoshio Inoue have signed on as headline performers for WOWOW’s highly anticipated “Tony Awards Concert In Tokyo,” which will take place on March 18th, 2017.
Morrison, who most recently starred as “J.M Barrie” in the Harvey Weinstein musical “Finding Neverland,” and was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in “The Light in the Piazza,” and O’Hara, the 2015 Tony-Award winner for “The King and I,” will bring cherished Broadway hits to life and recreate the magic for the Japanese audience. WOWOW will broadcast the concert from the Tokyo International Forum, which seats over 5,000 people.
Kayo Washio, who runs WOWOW’s Los Angeles office, and is producing the concert event for WOWOW, said, “These performers have instilled in me a passion for theater over the years. Matthew’s reputation on Broadway precedes him. And Kelli’s voice takes me to another time and place. Yoshio has established himself as the foremost musical actor in Japan and I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring to our stage. I’m so honored to have them all on board for our special concert.”
“It’s an honor to have been invited to participate in this special event, and to bring Broadway’s rich tradition to the beautiful people of Japan,” said Morrison. “I look forward to sharing some of what I consider the most important music in performing arts history, and to commemorate the productions that originally brought these songs to life.”
O’Hara added “After spending over a year working with my brilliant leading man, Ken Watanabe, in ‘The King and I,’ nothing excites me more than traveling to his beloved homeland for the very first time to perform with another of my favorite leading men, Matthew Morrison!”
The premium musical concert has official recognition from the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. An increase in Broadway musical fandom in Japan has led to aspirations for this concert to become an annual event, with WOWOW to continue to produce alongside a variety of major stage show programs such as straight plays, musicals, ballets, traditional Japanese theatre, and opera (WOWOW is official broadcaster of New York’s’ famed Metropolitan Opera “The Met”).
WOWOW has an agreement to broadcast the Tony Awards that see the annual show broadcast live in Japan, exclusively on WOWOW. The American Theatre Wing‘s Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.
The concert set list will consist of renowned Broadway musical songs and memorable performances from the Tony Awards.
“My concerts are a pretty good workout for me,” he said.
Whether you look at his role models or his extensive experience both onstage and onscreen, Morrison prides himself on being a natural showman, a song-and-dance man and a performer who can do it all.
Morrison grew up idolizing the grace and masculinity of the legendary Gene Kelly while attending a performing-arts high school in California. He later went on to study at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts before starting his theatrical career in New York City.
He landed his first Broadway role playing Chuck Cranston in the stage adaptation of “Footloose” in 1998 before getting his breakout role as Link Larkin in the 2002 production of “Hairspray” and later a Tony Award-nominated performance in the musical “The Light at the Piazza” in 2005.
Morrison dabbles in Broadway, as he did last year playing J.M. Barrie in the stage adaptation of the 2004 film “Finding Neverland.” However, he admits he has to be selective because of the endurance it takes to consistently pull off musical theater at the highest level.
“I think Broadway is more of a young man’s game,” said Morrison, 37. “When you’re trying to put on that same performance that the people love every single night, it’s a lot of time and commitment.”
Morrison later transitioned to screen actor and eventually landed the role that catapulted his career, portraying Will Schuester, the high school Spanish-teacher-turned-glee club leader on Fox’s hit 2009 musical dramedy, “Glee.”
The show took home multiple Golden Globe Awards and Emmys during its six-year run and earned Morrison himself a Golden Globe nomination in 2010.
Even as each day provides more hindsight, Morrison can’t fully put his finger on what made “Glee” the pop culture phenomenon it was. But aside from its ability to tackle some serious issues in a unique way, he said the way the show used popular music is similar to what all great stage musicals can do.
“You take songs a lot of people heard many, many times. … If you weave those songs into a story line, those songs get a whole new meaning,” he said. “We got to some great storytelling through music and it wasn’t ever presented like that before.”
Morrison’s success on “Glee” has allowed him to scratch all of his creative itches. He recorded two studio albums — a self-titled release in 2010 and “Where It All Began” in 2013 — and returned to the small screen this year for a recurring role in the hit CBS drama “The Good Wife.”
But what he has done away from just acting or singing is what he will do Saturday at Lexington’s Picnic for the Pops . During production hiatuses on “Glee,” he began to organize tours and travel the country performing songs with various bands and orchestras.
When he comes to Lexington, Morrison will play a set list that will be a career retrospective of his Broadway work and recorded music, backed by the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
Morrison said the set list might be a bit different depending on both the city and whether he is backed by a symphony or a smaller band, but the feeling of having an orchestra back him up is a unique thrill.
“It’s kind of like being the general of an army,” he said. “It’s a very powerful and empowering feeling, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
Regardless of the number of musicians that accompany Morrison on any given performance, audiences will get to see a performer ecstatic to be in his element.
“Every time I hit that stage, it’s a breath of fresh air for me,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do, and I feel so lucky I get to do this and bring music and joy and hopefully introspectiveness to an audience every single night.”
“I just got back from Provincetown, where I did a show with Matthew Morrison. Yowza! Does he put out, theatrically! So many songs had dance breaks and his encore was “Singin’ in the Rain” with a dance break and an umbrella prop. Brava! Matt said his dancing began as a kid when he was in a “gang.” Of course, he lived in Orange County, CA, so I assume his gang was all pre-med students. Nonetheless, he said he would graffiti things and his “tag name” was Skyler. He said there was a girl he had a crush on, and her name was Skyler, and he thought it was a cool name. Tag name? From that explanation, I think he meant drag name. Anyhoo, he and his gang would get cardboard (as one does) and break dance all the time. Now that he’s older, he calls it “broke dancing” because the day after he does some steps, his body feels broke. I asked him what his signature step was and he said he could hoist his body up on one arm and pinwheel his legs. I then moved my chair back so he’d demonstrate but he wouldn’t do it for fear of a full body collapse. Cut to, by the time he came out for his encore, he hauled out his signature step and the crowd went wild. If they ever make a Broadway musical out of “Breakin,’” the 1984 film, please hire Matt. Yes, that was a film.
Before Matt ever did Broadway, he was in a fake boy band that the David Letterman show put together. It was called “Freshstep” (after the kitty litter), and he told me there was a song they did that was supposed to be from a film about a boy falling in love with a Deaf girl. The song was called “Don’t Talk To The Hand (Talk to the Heart).” Hilarious…and I found a clip online! And you can see Footloose star Jeremy Kushnier in the group as well!
I asked Matt how he got Glee, and he told us that he sent in an audition tape and they liked it. Then he had to go in person to audition for Ryan Murphy. He had just done a play with Jill Clayburgh, and she had worked with Ryan, so he asked her for advice. She basically told him to go in and flirt with Ryan. How did it go, I asked? His answer: “I got the job.” WERK!