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.”
Matthew Morrison and wife Renee Puentewere on a date night. But all the Glee star wanted to talk to Us Weekly about was their infant son, [Revel] James Mak[a]i.
“He’s intensified the love I have for life,” the Glee star, 39, told Us at Todd Snyder’s fashion show – which was presented by Cooper & Thief Cellarmasters — on Monday, February 5. “The baby is three and a half months and he’s finally noticing us and realizing how important we are to him and his survival.”
Indeed, when the actor and Renee went out one evening, they got a call from the nanny. “She’s like, ‘OK, he’s fine, but you need to get home!’” Puente recalled to Us. When she entered James’ nursery, it was clear he was upset that Mom and Dad hadn’t included him in their plans. “He was, like, angry, making out with my face!” she laughed. “I would turn around and he would pull my hair. It was the most glorious unconditional love.”
Puente who joked that she could have 20 kids, added that doesn’t regret waiting a few years to expand their family. “It’s, like, thank God we did everything we could before had babies,” she told Us. “We had every last conversation. We had every last travel and adventure together and we were ready for this new element to come and just sweep us off our feet feet. And he did. He did.”
Though the couple are still getting to know their nugget, it appears he takes after Morrison, who has appeared in three Broadway musicals, including Hairspray and Footloose. “We sing to him all the time,” the actor told Us. “He lights up.”
Matthew Morrison found his passion at a young age. The lightbulb in his soul turned on when he was ten-years old. It happened when his parents placed him into a children’s theater production of a show called The Herdmans go to Camp. And that was it. “I grew up as an only child and often felt lonely. But I was always creative. My imagination was always going and I made up new worlds,” shares the Emmy-, Golden Globe- and Tony-nominated Glee star and Broadway veteran. “Doing the show was the first time in my life where I got to use what was in my imagination and put it out into the world. It was focused into something.”
This monster-sized talent has been acting, dancing and singing ever since. In fact, this month Morrison is performing live at the glamorous 147-seat supper club Feinstein’s/54 Below. The shows will include standards and beloved songs from his past productions including Hairspray, The Light In The Piazza, South Pacific, Finding Neverland and Glee. Plus, the audience will have some surprises. “We have a special guest star every single night,” says Morrison. “I have a great list of people coming to sing a song with me.”
The concerts mark one of the first times that Morrison will be stepping onstage as a father. “Life is so amazing, and I’m very happy,” offers the proud papa. He and his wife Renee welcomed their son Revel this past October. “I feel a new energy, a new passion, a new light. All I want to do is share what I’m feeling now,” he reveals. “I’m excited to have the energy that is flowing through me flow through the audience. I hope they will feel what I’m feeling.”
What is the joy of doing your show at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
I love performing there. I am such a song and dance man. My shows usually incorporate a lot of dance. However, it’s kind of hard to dance on that small stage. But that forces me to change up my show a little and give in to the intimacy. I can really connect with the audience in less of a showman way. It’s really about connection. That space is so beautiful. I love the history of the room. [It was once the basement of the disco Studio 54.] Also, I love being in touch with the Broadway community, which is my family. It’s always good to go back.
What has becoming a dad been like for you?
There are few times in your life where you get to hit that reset button. It is so great to go on this new journey and be a lot less selfish. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about my son.
Does Revel sing?
He coos a lot. I wouldn’t call it singing. We’re not quite at that stage. We’re just getting to the stage when he’ll look at us and actually smile. That is everything!
What do you sing to him?
We sing a lot to him. We sing the lullaby from Finding Neverland [“Sylvia’s Lullaby”] all the time. Every morning as soon as he wakes up my wife and I sing “Good morning, good morning. You slept the whole night through.” That is our wake up song.
Would you like to do another Broadway show?
It is always something that I’m thinking about and is on my plate. I have a great team of people who are on the search for something. I also have my sights set on a specific show that I want to revive. Unfortunately, I can’t expel what that show is. It is something that I have been wanting to do for a long time. The pieces are starting to fall together.
And I love being a part of new works. Growing up and listening to all these Broadway cast albums, it’s so special to be a part of an original Broadway cast. There is something wonderful about being the first one to create a show and put your stamp on it. You’re the person they always compare the character to.
During your concert you sing songs that are beloved classics. How do you choose them?
Those songs connect with me. There is so much music out today where you can tell that the story was secondary. Nowadays, it’s all about coming up with a cool beat. But with classic songs, they’re telling a story with music and lyrics. Sometimes those stories are very simple. I love that. It’s all about the performer getting up there and putting meaning behind these simple stories. The combination of a performer and these beautiful songs can take a simple song and make it deep, reflective and stunning.
What inspired you and photographer Zach McDuffie to launch your gifts for dads and adventure gear company Sherpapa?
It’s unlike anything I have ever done. As an actor and singer, I am always worried about my next job and how it’s not in my hands. It is basically up to producers or the director to give me a job. Fortunately, I’m in a position where I can create a lot of my own stuff. Still, at the end of the day, I’m an actor for hire.
This business has forced me to use a completely different part of my brain. I think of an idea for a product and how to make it. Our big first prototype was a universal diaper bag. For men our only option was to use our wives’ diaper bags, which often has a big pink elephant on it. Otherwise, a backpack is not really functional.
We created a really cool gear bag that is for all seasons of fatherhood. In the baby market, I discovered that everything you buy is disposable. You use something for a year and then it is garage sale fodder. We are trying to be environmentally conscious and come up with products that will be heirloom quality. These are diaper bags. But eventually I want to use it to hold my tools to fix my son’s first apartment. And one day I will pass it down to him.
What do you miss about doing Glee?
Glee was such an important part of my life, and so special. I think I took it for granted when it was going on because it all happened so fast. We were on this crazy rollercoaster ride. We were a huge, successful hit right away. I didn’t really have a chance to process things.
I’m proud that we really tackled some great storylines. I believe we helped a lot of people figure out things like being gay in high school or having a teenage pregnancy or being bullied. A family could watch this television show together, and at the end of the episode have a great conversation about what they just watched. Hopefully, we changed some lives along the way.
Matthew Morrison is tapping outside by the pool. Under a canopy of palm trees with the Los Angeles sun beaming down, he’s grooving to the music in his mind. Watching him dance can transport you to a different era.
Set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills, the scene looks plucked from the Tinseltown of yore. The classic song-and-dance man moves to the beat of his own drum with a sense of unbridled joy. Has Gene Kelly come back to life? Has the departed soul of Fred Astaire been reincarnated?
“I am someone who feels like I was born in the wrong era,” Morrison says. “I have a connection with that music and that time and just how simple it was. Today, music is all about coming up with a cool beat, whereas back then [it was] music and lyrics that tell a story.”
Our photo shoot is at the Garcia House, an architectural icon designed by John Lautner that is famous as the house that rolls down the hill in Lethal Weapon 2. Celebrity tour buses drive by throughout the day, and when the echo of a tour guide’s microphone reverberates through the house, Morrison jokingly waves and smiles, though no fan can see him.
After the shoot, back in his own clothing (a cream-colored sweater, faded jeans, and white Converse sneakers), Morrison sits in an armchair in the book-lined study. The sun is setting, and pink and orange hues filter through the wide windows overlooking the hills. If he’s exhausted from the day, he doesn’t show it.
Morrison is a triple threat — singer, dancer, actor — an increasing rarity in an industry obsessed with quick hits and Instagram followings. After cutting his teeth on Broadway starring in shows like Hairspray and South Pacific, Morrison catapulted into the spotlight on the Fox musical television series Glee as Will Schuester, the loveable Spanish teacher with big dreams.
Right now, he’s focused on his latest role: father. His son, Revel James Makai Morrison, was born on Oct. 12, 2017. Revel and Morrison’s wife, Renee, joined him at our photo shoot. In between setups, Morrison would lovingly dote on his wife and son, never losing the quintessential new-dad expression of curiosity, concern, and adoration. As an only child, Morrison didn’t grow up around other children, so caring for and bonding with Revel has been a transformative experience.
“Seeing him develop that awareness of what it is to be around a child, and to see that beautiful innocence, it’s so powerful,” Renee says. “I’ve never met anybody who is so concerned and just passionate about being there for his family. He’s just such an incredible human. I feel so fortunate to be his partner.”
Renee says Morrison has taken a hands-on role in parenting, changing most of the diapers when he’s home. She says he constantly worries whether Revel is breathing.
“It’s scary. We’re really responsible for this human being,” Morrison says. “All the things you hear about going into parenting are true. I’ve never known love like this.”
Morrison’s smile is disarming, and he has an easy confidence that makes you wonder if he’s always performing. When he’s passionate about his subject — his wife, his son, Broadway — he doesn’t miss a beat, and his voice lures you in, leaving you hanging on every word as if it were a musical note. Every fidget becomes a little dance.
According to his mentor, Ralph Opacic, he has had star quality from a young age.
“He was that likable, charismatic kid,” says Opacic, who is the founder and executive director of the Orange County School of the Arts in Los Alamitos, Calif., where Morrison graduated from high school. “He fit in with the artistic musical-theater kids at OCSA. He fit in with the athletes on the soccer field. He fit in with the student-leadership kids.”
After six seasons on Glee in a part Morrison says was tailor-made for him and his talents, he’s eager to dive into unexpected roles, departing from the good-guy archetype. “I feel like everyone kind of thinks of me as Mr. Schuester, that kind of happy-go-lucky nice guy, which I am, but I’m an actor,” he says. “I have been doing this my whole life. I feel like I have a lot of depth and different things to offer.”
He’s eager to do it all: film (he appeared in the Alicia Vikander vehicle Tulip Fever); television (he has a recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Jo Wilson’s abusive ex-husband); and the stage (he led a benefit concert of Damn Yankees alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal and Whoopi Goldberg in December.)
Early 2018 is busy for Morrison: He’s performing six nights at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York, Jan. 7-13. “It’s one of the sexiest rooms in New York,” he says. “I love how intimate it is; I love that I can just talk to people.”
As far as what he plans to perform, Morrison is still figuring it out and wants to let his instincts lead him in the moment. “I’m very free-flowing and I like to ad lib onstage, so I just kind of go wherever I go,” he says.
In February, he’ll travel to Japan, where he’s headlining six shows in Tokyo and Osaka, and then he’ll return to China to complete filming for the sci-fi movie Crazy Alien, which will be released in 2019.
Theater will always be home for Morrison. “I can’t not be on the stage,” he says with a sigh. “You have that bond with those people, because you are literally looking out for each other, and if something goes wrong you have to count on these people — you can’t just call ‘cut.’”
He’d love to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel, John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, and put on a production of City of Angels. “And I want to do it with Leslie Odom Jr.,” he says.
Morrison follows his passions wherever they take him, from stage to screen and back again. His latest venture is a startup, Sherpapa Supply Co., a lifestyle brand for family adventures. He cofounded the company, which sells durable gear specifically for dads, with his friend Zach McDuffie.
“Everything you buy as a parent is garage-sale fodder within the first year,” he explains. “We believe in durability over the disposable. Our bag is for all seasons of fatherhood, from the go-bag to the delivery room, to the diaper bag, to carrying food and snacks for your kid, to putting your tools in it to fix your daughter’s first apartment.”
Morrison wants to limit how often he is on the road touring so he can be home with his family, but he says becoming a father won’t change how he selects projects.
“It’s changed my perspective on work,” Morrison says. “I’m in a business where it’s very selfish. You’re always thinking about yourself, and I just don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not about you anymore; it’s about your family unit. For me, that’s the most important thing in my life right now.”
Styled by Drew Jessup Hair and makeup by Diana Schmidtke Shot at The Garcia House
Matthew Morrison is hard to pin down. The multi-hyphenate performer moves fluidly between acting, singing and dancing — and he’s one heck of a busy guy. He’s currently shooting a film in China, taking a solo concert show on a national tour, and running a men’s apparel and accessory business he co-founded this summer.
Acclaimed for his golden voice in Broadway musicals such as “Hairspray” and “The Light in the Piazza,” Morrison’s been nominated for a Tony, a Golden Globe and an Emmy while playing heartthrobs on the big and small screen — most notably the compassionate and crush-worthy high school glee club director William Schuester, or “Mr. Schue,” on the wildly popular TV musical dramedy “Glee.”
The barrier-breaking series about a misfit group of show choir kids chasing their dreams not only launched the Broadway star into the pop culture mainstream, it arguably made musical theater cool again.
“‘Glee’ was great because it shamelessly stood for something at a time when social responsibility was as uncool as, well, being in your high school show choir,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon when the show ended in 2015. “It was a nerds-shall-rise moment for musical theater fans who had been waiting for their turn on the pop-culture kick line.”
More recently, Morrison went on to star in the Harvey Weinstein-produced musical “Finding Neverland” and has a role in the upcoming period drama “Tulip Fever,” starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander.
But pretty soon he’ll be adding the role of a lifetime to his resume: dad. The 38-year-old is expecting his first child with wife Renee Puente later this year.
Morrison is tight-lipped about baby details as well as the set list for this Thursday’s free Marina del Rey Summer Concert Series performance at Burton Chace Park. But in a telephone interview Friday, Morrison did say he looks forward to jazzing up his repertoire of standards and show tunes with “some great pop songs that are great songs to dance to,” including musical renditions from “Glee” and maybe a few Elton John hits.
“I love anything Elton John,” Morrison says. “Just his melodies and his lyrics are so amazing and evocative and fun and fresh. I’ve been listening to his music for the past 20 years and it’s still so relevant. … It’s something that every generation can really get behind.”
But mostly Morrison just wants to put on a good show.
“I’m an entertainer,” he says, “and I just want people to be entertained.”
How did Gene Kelly become one of your idols?
Growing up, I was always in the theater. I started at a very young age. The two monuments of musical theater that you could watch on film were Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Fred Astaire was kind of the aristocrat and Gene Kelly was kind of the proletariat, the working class man. I always really associated myself with Gene Kelly — just seeing him dance, it really inspired me to dance. He made [dance] look so masculine and so athletic. … He was my role model. He made [dance] look so cool. And it’s something that I’ve tried to do for future generations — to kind of keep dance alive and keep it masculine and keep it cool.
Did you have to overcome social biases about men who dance?
My first foray into dance was breakdancing. I got some cool points from people for that. But the breakdancing really led me into a love and an appreciation for all forms of dance. I got into ballet, tap and jazz. And I was lucky in high school. I really kind of held my own, and I was also an athlete. I didn’t bear the brunt of too much talk or bullying. But I really felt it was my personal duty to stand up for a lot of people who weren’t necessarily good at athletics and were still into dance. I felt that was my place and my role, and some lifelong friendships came from those moments.
Was attending the Orange County School of the Arts anything like “Glee”?
I guess there were some similarities. Big difference though, I was student in high school and not a teacher. [Laughs] … My inspiration for [Mr. Schuester] was a teacher I had in high school. That teacher — the guy who founded the Orange County School of the Arts, Ralph S. Opacic — is someone I’m still incredibly close to, and OCSA’s my legacy. I go back to the school. I do master classes with the kids. And I always try to tell them that “I was you. I was a kid who had a dream, and I just worked really hard and had a couple of lucky breaks and was able to have a great career basically singing and dancing and playing make believe for a living.”
“Glee” was such a cultural phenomenon. What do you think it did for musical theater in America?
Most people in Middle America, their idea of theater is basically going to see a kids’ high school production of a show. … I think people had such a bad connotation of theater because that’s all they were really exposed to. So I think “Glee” just opened people’s eyes to the magic of live theater.
Other than the fame it brought you, what impact did “Glee” have on your life?
I’m just so happy that I got to play a character on TV that actually stood for something and was such a positive role model. I could have played a doctor, a lawyer, a cop — the standard thing you see on TV. But this is someone who actually had passion for teaching and those kids and performance.
And I think I still have that impact on people who are fans of the show. As I get further and further away from the show, the impact of the show resonates even more for me now because people come up to me and say, “I had such a hard time in high school, but ‘Glee’ really changed my life and it gave me a new perspective and a new outlet.”
And I think it really changed people’s lives. It was the only time when people could actually sit down with their families and watch an episode about being gay in high school, or being bullied or … being pregnant in high school. And hopefully people can just sit and watch an episode of “Glee” and actually have a conversation with their family after an episode. That’s how I picture a perfect night of watching “Glee” — watching it and having a great outlet to vocalize more thoughts on what you just saw.
What do you see as your next act?
It’s been a crazy ride since the show. I have a big role in “Grey’s Anatomy” coming up. I’m shooting this fantastic movie in China. I’m doing concerts all over the world. I just stared a business called Sherpapa because I’m going to be a new dad.
Thank you! I just realized that there’s nothing out there for cool dads. If you want to have a diaper bag, you’re forced to carry your wife’s bag, or put stuff in a backpack. So [friend Zach McDuffie and I] kind of created this new manly and classic bag for dads, and we also have a lot of great apparel. So that’s been a really cool and different journey for me as well.
How do you feel about becoming a father?
There’s a few moments in your life when you get to actually hit the reset button and kind of start fresh, and I’m so excited to do that. I’m 38 years old and I feel like I’m doing this at the perfect time because I got to live and I had so many life experiences that I can really pass down to my child. … I have the perfect partner in my life — Renee. We’re so ready for this journey. I’m really excited to be a present and proactive father.
Do you have a song that speaks to you in terms of becoming a father?
The song that’s been playing in my head a lot is “Fix You” by Coldplay. I love that song. It’s just so beautiful. The way [Chris Martin] sings it in his falsetto, too, it’s almost like a lullaby. I’m trying to learn it right now so I can sing it to my kid.
Acting, singing or dancing — do you have a favorite?
I love them all. Honestly, it really depends on the day. Right now I love acting, I think. If you ask me right now, just because I’ve been doing it so much. But the great thing about my career is I’ve been able to do all three. That’s why I think “Glee” and my performances on Broadway have been the perfect jobs for me, because I got to do all three at once. It’s just like the perfect song.
Actor, dancer, and singer-songwriter Matthew Morrison has won over audiences by stepping into the shoes of a bevy of characters on Broadway and on TV, most notably as Will Schuester on Glee. But he’s about to take on what may very well be his most exciting role yet: as a dad to his first child with wife Renee Morrison. But before the couple welcomes their baby in the fall, Morrison and photographer Zach Duffie have designed and debuted a new line of dad gear and accessories called Sherpapa Supply Co. In honor of the line’s launch, Morrison and Duffie—fast friends who met through their wives—curated favorite and exclusive clothes, bags, hats, and other items for a special partnership with Gilt.com.
Parents.com recently caught up with Morrison and Duffie at their launch party to chat about their inspiration for Sherpapa, the challenges of being a modern dad, and Morrison’s hopes and fears around fatherhood.
Sherpapa was originally inspired by the birth of Duffie’s daughter, who’s now 2. As “an outdoors kinda guy” and a stay-at-home (or, as he likes to put it, a “stay outside dad”), he says he realized there really weren’t baby bags or accessories made for him and fathers like him. “I started to talking to Matthew, and he was the one who pushed me into saying, ‘Hey, we really need to make this a reality, there’s people that need this,’” the photographer explains.
“He was saying, ‘There’s nothing out there for cool dads,'” Morrison shares with Parents.com exclusively. “I said, ‘Let’s roll with this.’ Nine months ago, we really put the pedal to the medal. It’s just been such a labor of love. It’s such a family business.”
Duffie and Morrison also very much see the line as more than “just products.” They’re also hoping that the brand will send a powerful, important message to other dads and dads-to-be.
“Being a dad, one of the most universal things, really, the stereotypes around it are kind of the dorky dad that kinda bumbles through,” Duffie acknowledges. “But now, both parents share the responsibilities of the day-to-day a lot more. We’re in a generation where both the husband and wife both work and they both share the responsibilities of raising the kids, and there are a lot of dads who just own it, who are on top of it, and there’s no lifestyle brand that really supports that. And we’re in a time where we really need strong family leaders, and there needs to be something for those guys.”
Morrison agrees that feeling prepared with the right diaper bag or other everyday items can positively affect modern dads’ morale. “We’re trying to really motivate dads to be present and proactive fathers, and give them the tools and the gear to feel like they’re ready for anything, because it is such a challenging job to be a parent, and we want to make it as easy as possible,” he notes.
And speaking of feeling prepared, this is, no doubt, a big year for Morrison—but he’s taking all of the major milestones in stride. “Obviously, I’m about to have a child, and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing,” he shares. “I’m about to go on the biggest adventure of my life, and I feel like this the first birth of the year—getting this company launched, and then we’ll have the next one!”
In the meantime, Morrison has certainly been thinking about what the big day of his child’s birth will look like. And like all expectant fathers, he admits he’s nervous.
“The thing I’m most terrified about is probably the actual birth,” he told Parents.com. “Because it’s so unpredictable, you know. But my dad is a midwife; he’s going to be there for the birth of our child. And I’ve grown up in that baby-birthing world, so I’m actually really ready for that. I feel like you get certain points of your life where you get to reset, and things just sort of start over, and I feel like this is one of those moments where I’m going to hit the reset button, and anything is possible. It’s a whole new world.”
Cheers to that—and to dads feeling even more prepared to take on that world.
FORMER GLEE STAR ADMITS FILMING GLEE TOOK ITS TOLL AFTER SIX YEARS ON THE SHOW
TV heartthrob Matthew Morrison has fond memories off filming hit musical TV show Glee – but reveals he’s glad it’s now come to an end.
The actor starred as Will Schuester from 2009 to 2015 but with success comes extra demands and consequently long hours.
He said: “We worked tirelessly. It was 16 hour days minimum. We did dance rehearsals, recorded the show, filmed it and did press alongside that so it was long, long hours.
“It was a great show. I really feel I was their teacher. A lot of the kids hadn’t done anything like that before and I’d done Broadway shows so in many ways I really was their teacher.”
ON DANCING AS A BOY GROWING UP
I found my passion at a young age. There were moments of insecurities but I was pretty athletic so I got away with it.
ON HIS WIFE
She is stunning, she is from Hawaii so we got married there. Eventually when we have kids they will have Hawaiian names. We want to follow that tradition. At our wedding she did a dance. It’s a tradition a woman ‘leis’ her man!
ON SEX SCENES
I have the most supportive wife. She tells me if I have a sex scene or kissing she she wants me to really go for it. She wants it to go right. They’re the weirdest things to film.
I had a sex scene with Cara Delevingne in a film recently. It’s always strange. Very choreographed, there’s a bunch of people watching and you’re naked.
ON HIS UPCOMING NEW LONDON SHOW
It’s three shows. I tell stories of my life. I’m so used to playing characters but this is a chance for the audience to really see Matthew Morrison. I go through a career retrospective of some shows I’ve been in from Glee to Hairspray.
“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.”