Matthew Morrison is dreaming Disney dreams in 2020. That’s because theEmmy, Tony, and Golden Globe nominated artist has teamed up with Disney Music Group to release a carefully curated album of Disney classics, Disney Dreamin’ with Matthew Morrison, set for release on March 6.
Inspired as a personal dedication to his own child, Morrison’s song selection was picked from his fondest Disney memories as a child himself, and will cover several eras of beloved classic films including “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo,” “Cinderella” and “Toy Story.” The physical album is now available for pre-order.
Below, he checks in with BroadwayWorld to tell us all about the new album, hisupcoming concert at Sony Hall (March 13), and even reveals what show could get him back on Broadway!
Firstly, congrats on your new album. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
I can’t wait to have people hear it, honestly. I’ve been sitting on it for a while because I was going to release it in August of last year, but then I got American Horror Story, and I didn’t really think it was appropriate to put it out at the time… it just wasn’t right, the timing.
I understand that it came to be out of an inspiration to make something for your son?
Yes, absolutely. You know, being a father has completely like turned my world upside down and it really just informed me on this love that I didn’t know that I was capable of feeling. It rocked my world, and also brought around these Disney songs that I remember from my childhood. They are a part of all of our upbringings, and just to have those songs kind of just circle back… now they resonate in a different way for me. It was pretty exciting. So, I wanted to put out a children’s album. I kind of started talking with different labels, and I guess Disney got wind of this, and they approached me and asked me if I wanted to do an album of Disney covers, and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ And they gave me free rain to do what I wanted to do with these songs.
I love your “Go the Distance”, and especially the new sound that you’ve brought to it. Are there a lot of new arrangements that people can expect from the other tracks?
Yes. Every one of these songs has a new arrangement and a new kind of a take on the song. You know, it was hard to do, too, because some of these songs are so iconic! I did “You’ll Be My Heart,” and it’s hard to hear that song and not think of Phil Collins, but my goal is to try to make it sound fresh and different. I want to just do that song in particular because just the sentiment of that song really touches me Since becoming a father, the lyrics just get me! The whole idea of having a new meaning, and just the promise of unconditional love… But yes, every single song has a little bit of my own take on it.
I think Disney music is something that’s really important to a lot of people- either just the feeling that it gives them, or the nostalgia of having like seen the original movie as a kid. What do you think that it is about Disney music that transcends generations the way it does?
Well, I think it’s a safe space to kind of cohabitate with your parents. The thing that I love about Disney movies is that a lot of the kids love them so much, but there are so many things that kind of go over kids’ heads, and it kind of hits the adults in a deeper way like, whoa! You know? I really think that there is something in there for everyone. It’s also funny because I’m going through this process of watching a lot of these movies, over again, with my son, and new things are jumping out at me. But also the amount of times I can watch one movie, over and over, and over, and not be sick of it! There’s some kind of like magic in the water with Disney in that you’re able to do that and not completely self-destruct. [Laughs]
What kind of music was like really important to you as a child? What did your parents play for you?
Disney was definitely a part of it, but when I was a child, Disney didn’t really have its Renaissance yet- that was in my teens. But still Disney was there, like “Bare Necessities,” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and all those songs where we were listening to the vinyls of those. My mom loved musical theater and showtunes. I don’t know how she got into that because it seems so funny and so foreign. I’m just going to have to ask her that some day. I think it was honestly more like Barbra Streisand, singing her covers of musicals, and those kinds of albums that really touched her. I think that’s the great thing about those songs from musicals, back in the day. You had some of the biggest artists in the world, like Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. doing their versions of these iconic songs, and I think I definitely grew up listening to those… a lot. Then throw in some Weird Al Yankovic and that’s pretty much my childhood.
What a mix! I know that you’re doing this special concert on March 13. Can people expect to hear any of these Disney songs?
This is going to be my first time doing this kind of a concert. I really wanted to get more interaction with the fans and something where I’ve kind of done this really interesting format for this show. It’s going to be a little bit of a career retrospective- doing songs from the shows that I’ve been in, that Broadway fans that would love to hear, I think. Then I’ve asked my friend, Frank DiLella, to come in and moderate the evening. So I’ll do like 10 minutes here, Frank will come on and do like a little bit of a question and answer with me, and then I’ll go and do like a 20-minute section, and then Frank will come back on and talk about where I’m at now or my Broadway history. It will be nice to have someone guide the evening a little bit, besides myself. Then I actually want to have fan questions and just bring a few people up on stage. And then, yes, at the end of the night, I really want to highlight some of my favorite Disney songs.
It sounds like it will be a very intimate evening with you!
Yes, especially because we live in this world now where everyone has so much access to everyone else, and I want to do that in a way where we can all just be in the same room together, having the same experience.
Is there a song from your career that you feel like you’ll never get sick of singing?
You know, the first audition song I ever really remember having was “On the Street Where You Live,” and that is a song that has really just followed me throughout my career. I booked Glee with that, and I booked so many Broadway shows with that, and that’s been like my go-to song. I still sing it in my set today. I just love that song, and I kind of changed it over the years and have more of like an up-tempo and jazzy kind of an arrangement of it, but that’s one of the songs.
Also, “As Long as He Needs Me.” I love that song from Oliver, and it’s a song that I ripped off Sammy Davis Jr. He did this version called “As Long as She Needs Me,” and I sang that for years. But after having my son, I kind of went back to “As Long as He Needs Me,” and that kind of made it more about my son. I love how songs can really just evolve through your own life, and it’s just a testament to the songwriting, and the amazing lyrics that really just take you on the journey, wherever your journey may take you.
I know that you are in London, right now, right, doing The Greatest Dancer. How is Series 2 going?
It’s going great. Honestly, we learned so much from series one that this year has been so much more efficient. I think the talent is so much better this year, and it’s just something that I love to do. It’s kind of this place where I get to, you know, speak on a subject that I know very well, and the thing I love about this is that it kind of gives me the opportunity to mentor the next generation of artists and such. I’m really working closely with my acts, and just imparting knowledge that I’ve kind of gained throughout my years in this business, and it feels really good, and refreshing, and real, you know, and it’s great.
Do you like being in London?
You know what, it kind of has turned into that. Another thing- in New York and LA, it’s interesting walking into a restaurant, and you get a little bit of a side eye if you walk in with a kid. London is just so open and accepting of children, and they just are so welcome, everywhere, and there are so many places to go, so many parks to see, so many museums. It’s just, it’s really nice to be here. You know, I wish it was a different time of year, probably, [Laughs] but it’s still pretty. I’ve only come here in the past, just basically doing press, and really never staying here, but now I get to really be a tourist in this great city. I probably work maybe three or four days a week, so I’ve actually had a lot of days off.
Have you seen a lot of theater while you’ve been there?
Yes! I actually went last night to see my friend Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe in this show called Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, which is so interesting! I’m going this week to see my good friend Jerry Mitchell– he’s putting up Pretty Woman over here, which I didn’t see in New York, and so I want to see it over here. Oh, and I’m seeing Gavin [Creel] and Sara [Bareilles] in Waitress.
What would it take to get you back to New York in a Broadway show?
You know what, I don’t know. I’m really at this point of my career where I know what I want, and I’m extremely picky, but I’ve been trying to get this one project made over there, and the rights have been really tied up. So I haven’t been able to do it, but I’m dying to do City of Angels.
One person who knows what that pressure feels like is Matthew Morrison, who played Paul Stadler, the divisive doctor with a violent and dangerous streak. Okay, so maybe no one was sad to see him go, but Morrison sure had a ton of fun playing the evil surgeon.
“To be able to go on Grey’s Anatomy and play a manipulator, a liar…it was awesome!” Morrison quipped when he sat down with SheKnows to talk all things Grey’s. “I had so much fun. My time on Grey’s Anatomy was huge for me. Its easier to do a role like that than it is to do a Mr. Schuster which is a little closer to what I am,” the actor and Broadway veteran said, reflecting on his beloved Glee character.
So, was he surprised when they killed him off so quickly? Umm, yes!. “They killed my character off within four episodes!” While Morrison understands there were narrative reasons for Paul getting the axe, he adds that Grey’s writers may have regretted their decision, telling him they had fallen in love with his character along the way.
But not all hope is lost. Morrison knows just how he can make a big comeback to Grey Sloan Memorial: “Maybe he has a twin brother out there,” he laughs.
Matthew Morrison has spoken about the tragic death of Glee co-stars Cory Monteith and Mark Salling. The actor and dancer, who will star as a dance captain on BBC show The Greatest Dancer, said their deaths were a warning about the pitfalls of the entertainment industry. The 40-year-old actor said: ‘Glee was an amazing time. The cast all see each other now and then and keep in touch. ‘I miss my friends, especially Cory and Mark. They were two incredible guys, they were on their own paths and what happened hasn’t tainted the memories of Glee, but it’s taught me about the business and the nature of fame.’
Matthew, who played teacher Will Schuester in the musical TV series, also spoke about the friendships he has built over the years, telling Closer magazine that it made him very happy when the show’s co-creator Brad Falchuk married Gwyneth Paltrow, who played substitute teacher Holly Holliday in several episodes. He said: ‘Working with Gwyneth was amazing – I was always such a fan of hers, so working with her was incredible. ‘She’s such a close friend of mine, and it’s awesome because she’s now married to one of my great friends, Brad. They’re both wonderful people.’
Matthew Morrison couldn’t be more “Glee”-ful about launching Bay Area Cabaret’s 15th Anniversary Season on Sept. 30 at the world-famous Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. ”I love places that have so much history,” says the Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee. Among the celebrated singers who’ve sung there: Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich, Peggy Lee and Tina Turner. And in 1961, Tony Bennett first performed ”I Left My Heart in San Francisco” there, which is especially apt since the Fairmont sits high upon Nob Hill, “where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.”
Morrison will be making his San Francisco cabaret debut with his spectacular show, “Song and Dance Man.” He will croon showtunes by the score and uphold the highest standards of the American songbook. Footloose and fun, he’ll dance about as if Gene Kelly were in his genes. In ”Hairspray,” he belted “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” But in concert, you can’t stop his feet.
Marilyn Levinson, the founding executive producer of Bay Area Cabaret, says: “I chose Matthew to open our 15th Anniversary Season because he embodies the best of what Bay Area Cabaret looks for in an artist: He is a consummate, triple-threat performer. I first saw him in “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center, and his dancing amazed me when I saw his solo show in New York. He also has a genuine love of Broadway and the standards, and he knows how to play to every member of his audience.”
Morrison is best-known as “Mr. Schue,” the compassionate teacher who “carefully taught” his “Glee” club of kids about music, life and love. But we chatted with him about what he has learned from being a performer, a parent and an entrepreneur. He also reflected on “Finding Neverland” and says his producer, Harvey Weinstein, “turned off … the Broadway community” with his bullying tactics. And he gave us exclusive news about his BBC talent show and his grand plans for a Museum of Dance.
Congrats, Matt, on kicking off the 15th season of Bay Area Cabaret. Have you ever played San Francisco?
The only national tour I ever did was “Footloose” [in 1999], and we played the Curran. But this will be my San Francisco cabaret debut. I can’t believe it’s taken so long. I’m a Northern California boy. I grew up in Chico, two hours outside of San Francisco. I remember the open spaces, the greenery and walking through creeks. It’s where I got my love of camping and the outdoors.
Meantime, you’ll get to see the indoors of the Venetian Room. It’s a stunning ballroom with a beautiful, 22-foot-high ceiling.
A couple days ago, my dad said, ”I’ve sung at the Venetian Room.” I said, ”What?” My dad does not sing. At all. But once he took a tour of the Fairmont Hotel, and they handed everyone lyrics to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” So my dad says he sang there before I did. (Laughs.) Tony Bennett has a lot of history in that room, and he does the standards better than anyone. I can’t wait to perform at the Venetian and feel the voices of the past. We’ll be doing a fun show with a 5-piece combo, and Brad Ellis will be my musical director. Brad and I have such a rich history that originated on the set of “Glee.” He is a mentor and a friend.
Your show is called “Song and Dance Man,” and you’re always on the move. You don’t just stand at the mike and sing. You swivel and swerve all over. To quote a “Finding Neverland” lyric, sometimes “your feet don’t touch the ground.”
Dance has always been so special and unique to what I do. Some of it’s choreographed. Some of it’s just me being inspired by the music. I can’t help it. I’m a mover. It’s just who I am. And I love Broadway, so I’ll be singing songs I’ve done there, from ”Hairspray,” ”The Light in the Piazza” and “South Pacific.” I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong era. I love the standards.
Your second CD, “Where It All Began,” is full of standards, but you give them your own spin. Like how you jazz up “It Don’t Mean a Thing” or “On the Street Where You Live.” And lately, you’ve found a new way to do a classic from “Oliver!”
Yeah, as a straight guy, I never felt a connection to “As Long as He Needs Me.” But last October, I had a son [Revel]. Now, I can do this song and it’s about my kid. It really touched me. That’s the beauty of standards; you can bring a new meaning to them.
As a longtime straight ally, you’ve also brought a new meaning to “We Kiss in a Shadow”: as a salute to gay marriage.
I really want to bring that to San Francisco, too. I strip it down, with no microphone. Just a ukulele. It has so much meaning.
As we’re chatting, the Senate is holding Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Brett Kavanaugh won’t say if he believes in marriage equality or if Obergefell is settled law. Do you have any concerns that marriage equality might be reversed?
I think we all have concerns about this [Trump] administration. But we’ve come so far, and I can’t imagine it being reversed. The LGBTQ community is so active and political. If it were reversed, it would be the next modern-day civil war.
No doubt you’ll do a couple of the lovely songs from “Finding Neverland” (by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy). You got to play J.M. Barrie in a show about how he was inspired to write “Peter Pan.” And you won the BroadwayWorld Award for Best Actor in a Musical and received Drama Desk and Drama League nominations. What did “Finding Neverland” mean to you?
I always knew I wanted to be a father someday, and that show really informed me about the kind of father I wanted to be: someone who never loses sight of that child inside himself. Over the course of my life, I really did lose that. Luckily, I’m in a career where I get to play constantly. But the work I was taking was becoming just that: work. The fun and the play wasn’t in it anymore. But “Finding Neverland” opened up my imagination and my thoughts on fatherhood in a more serious way.
“Finding Neverland” started off strongly, grossing over $1 million a week from its first previews in March 2015 and through that August. I wished it won a ton of Tonys, but the reviews were rough and the nominators snubbed it. You tweeted: “Despite [the lack of] nominations, I’m so proud to be in a show that takes audiences on a beautiful journey.” What happened?
I guess I can talk about it now, but a lot of it was [due to] Harvey Weinstein. It was kind of a shock. The way he acted [as a producer] turned off a lot of people in the Broadway community. He tried to bully his way into getting nominations, and that [rubbed] people the wrong way. But the show had a nice healthy run; it was beautifully done, and Diane Paulus did a great job.
Weinstein always said he was so proud of the cast. Before “Neverland” got the hook in August 2016, he even announced that he wanted to make a movie of it, starring you and Kelsey Grammer, and bring in Helen Mirren. Now, that’s unlikely. When the allegations of Weinstein sexually harassing various women came out last October, what did you think? Was it disbelief?
It wasn’t total disbelief. I’ve heard of a lot of stories in my time [about sexual harassment in showbiz], but it was never to that level or that extreme. Honestly, there were two sides of Harvey: the side that I never saw, and the other side where he was incredibly gracious to me and my family. He really took care of us for the whole run of “Finding Neverland.”
Your concerts often include a song from “Glee.” You must be thrilled with how well your “students” are doing. Amber Riley won the Olivier for “Dreamgirls” in London. Harry Shum Jr. is in “Shadowhunters” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” And this Monday, Darren Criss is up for an Emmy for Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Did you get to see him in that?
Absolutely. I was talking to Darren yesterday. He’s just so talented. I love everything he does or touches. He’s so smart. That was such a great turn to go from Blaine [in “Glee”] to Cunanan [in “Versace”]. I’m rooting for him at the Emmys.
Speaking of TV, tell me about “The Greatest Dancer,” the new show you’re doing with Simon Cowell.
It’s thrilling and so fresh. It’s Simon’s first talent show for the BBC. I’m a dance captain, along with Cheryl Tweedy and Oti Mabuse. The dancers walk into an audition room with mirrors before them. And there’s an audience of 3,000 behind the mirrors, but the dancers don’t know it. If 75% of the audience, which has controls, lights up for them, the dancers go on to the next round. I don’t vote. I’m just there to give positive, constructive criticism and inspire them. It’ll start airing in January in the U.K.
You’re always juggling so many projects. Are you still hoping to revive “City of Angels” for Broadway?
The rights are still held up in London, but I’m doing an upcoming sitzprobe with Ted Sperling [from Lincoln Center]. He’s starting a new program at NYU for future pit musicians. One day, we’ll go through the score of “City of Angels,” and I’ll play Stone. I love that role. Meantime, we’re still trying to lock in a Stine. Possibly Patrick Wilson. Possibly Leslie Odom, Jr.
One of your other dream roles is Booth in “Assassins.” So what was it like to be in a workshop of Stephen Sondheim’s new musical based on Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie“?
Exciting. It was very much in the beginning stages [in November 2016]. But I will say that the music was classic Sondheim, which was so exciting to sing. He still possesses that singular brilliance to tie together a haunting melody with provocative lyrics.
You’ve always performed a lot for charity. In 2005, we produced the first “Leading Men” concert for Broadway Cares at Joe’s Pub. You were the first guy we asked and the first guy to accept. John Tartaglia hosted, and Seth Rudetsky music-directed. It was a showcase for young Broadway pros, like you, and cabaret stars, like Tom Andersen. Do you remember any of that?
Of course, I do. I even remember what I was wearing that night: a red shirt with black stripes. And backstage, I had a big bag of peanut M&Ms. I sang a song I loved [“One Day More” by Georgia Stitt]. I had such a good time with the guys you brought together for that, and just look at their careers: Cheyenne Jackson, Barrett Foa, Christopher Sieber, Chad Kimball …
Besides being a performer, you’re an entrepreneur. One of your idols, Paul Newman, inspired you to co-found (with Zach McDuffie) the SHERPAPA Supply Company, which sells “high-quality gifts and gear for the modern family.” As you’ve written at Sherpapa.com, your company isn’t simply about selling T-shirts, caps and bags: ”It’s about inspiring men to handle responsibility, set a great example, and to ultimately keep their cool.” And that’s not your only new project, is it?
No. I’m creating a Museum of Dance in New York City. It’ll tell the history of dance, and it’ll be a completely immersive theater experience. For example, as you walk through the 1920s section, we’ll have dancers who perform and can teach you the Charleston. Some of our advisory board members include Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune. We hope to open in early 2020 in Long Island City and create other versions in Tokyo, London and Paris. I’d love to bring culture together through dance. And I want to turn that area in Long Island City into a new Times Square. Broadway has become so elite and too expensive for families.
Just to bring things full-circle, your Bay Area Cabaret show is on Sept. 30. But the next day, Oct. 1, kicks off a pretty historic month for you. Oct. 12 is Revel’s first birthday. And Oct. 30, you hit the big 4-0. How do you feel about that?
I’m going into this next decade with so much excitement and hope. And new projects and a family. There’s so much to be thankful for. It’s also Renee’s birthday in October and our wedding anniversary. It feels like the beginning of a new Matthew Morrison.
That might’ve begun as soon as you met Renee. In fact, how did you meet this gorgeous Hawaiian actress and model?
Eight years ago, I was at a Grammy party. It was literally “some enchanted evening,” and we saw each other “across a crowded room.” But we didn’t meet until I was leaving the party. I heard this girl speaking Pidgin, which is Hawaiian slang. I had spent a lot of time in Hawaii, and my first gig was singing backup for Don Ho. Then, I saw Renee. I thought “F*ck it” and went up to her and said: “How is it, Sistah?” She looked at this white boy speaking Pidgin and just laughed. And the rest is history.
Matthew Morrison performs Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel, 450 Mason St., San Francisco. Opening-night tickets, $125. The rest of Bay Area Cabaret’s 2018-19 season features: Gavin Creel (Oct. 14); Kate Baldwin (Nov. 4); Christine Andreas (Dec. 2); Carmen Cusack and Susan Werner (Jan. 20); John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey (March 3); Catherine Russell (March 24), and LaChanze (May 19). For more info, call (415) 927-4636 or visit bayareacabaret.org.
For 26 years Elton John has been synonymous with Oscar night as his annual Oscar-viewing party and fundraiser for his Elton John AIDS Foundation has become a staple of the awards. The foundation’s chairman and John’s husband, David Furnish, is still amazed the couple get to invite their friends and favorite musicians to raise funds to fight AIDS.
“I always say to Elton when we leave and walk out the front door of our house to go and do the event, ‘We should be break dancing down the driveway,'” Furnish says. “The fact that we’re still able to do this after 26 years and get the support that we get. We’re already several million dollars inthe bank before we’ve done the auction, before we’ve done the pledging, just the level of support we get is unbelievable.”
That begs an important question: who is the better break dancer? “Me, definitely. When Arlene Phillips directed Elton in his ‘I’m Still Standing’ video she said he was the worst dancer with no sense of rhythm she’d ever worked with in her career,” Furnish says cracking up. “That’s not me, that’s Arlene Phillips who said that.”
Furnish promised he’d be break dancing in the pit last night when young rockers Greta Van Fleet took the stage following the Oscar telecast/dinner and a silent auction. Actor/musician Matthew Morrison also promised to be break dancing.
“I’m always in the mosh pit, I’ll be break dancing in the mosh pit,” he joked.
Morrison is a veteran of the party, having attended for more than a decade. He comes out because of his friendship with John and the cause.
“I’ve been coming to this event for over a decade now. They’re not gonna stop anytime soon,” Morrison said. “This is a force. People don’t talk about HIV and AIDS the way they used to. It was an epidemic, it’s got a little bit of a handle, but it’s still an epidemic out there. But I think if it wasn’t for the Elton John AIDS Foundation we would be talking about it in a much different way because they have done so much, not just for the actual disease, but for the stigma and the kind of shame that is associated with the disease. It’s amazing the outreach that they have and the work that they do behind the scenes.”
When throwing an Oscar party and fund raiser it has to both share the message and be a hell of a party. It is as Morrison’s most memorable moment attests to.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I will because it was very memorable, Elton John often wears those studded shoes, blinged out, I remember licking his shoe one year,” Morrison says. “Yeah, had a few drinks and he held it up. That was my most memorable moment.”
Matthew Morrison’s5-month-old son Revel will never have that problem in school where the teacher calls out a name and five different kids look up. We’re looking at you, David and Michael.
Morrison told Us Weekly on Wednesday, March 1, that he and his wife, Renee Puente, spent a long time deliberating over monikers for their first born before deciding on Revel — “Rev” for short.
“My wife’s name is Renee, and I’m Matthew, obviously,” Morrison told Us at the Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards viewing party press preview day in West Hollywood. “We wanted our boy to have an R name . . . and we just kind of came with different R names.”
The couple kicked around “Ryder” and “Ryner” until one day it just came to them.
“We were just having a conversation and talking about how we want to revel in our child, just revel in love,” explained the 39-year-old dad. “It’s not really a typical name, but it’s not so weird.”
The Glee alum added: “The thing we didn’t really anticipate was, whenever I say his name, some people are like, ‘Rebel?’ That’s the only hard thing.”
hough Morrison, who has been involved with the Elton John AIDS foundation for more than a decade, was thrilled to be at the event, he admitted it was hard to be away from his infant.
“I hate leaving my kid with anyone. We’d rather have him around,” he said. “For things like this, it’s a special night. We’re hermits. We never go out!”
But Morrison and Puente aren’t having any trouble keeping their romance alive. “We’ll put him to bed a little early,” he told Us, “Then we’ll just go downstairs and cook an amazing meal together.”