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.”
Matthew Morrison will bring his extensive show-tune repertoire with him when he plays the Parker Playhouse on Feb. 17. But it’s the American songbook that’s his favorite.
“I love singing, and I love singing these standards,” Morrison says. “For me, that’s my wheelhouse and what I love to sing. Songwriting has become about having a cool beat. But [back then], music and lyrics were about telling a story. I love storytelling. I’m not just singing a song, I’m acting, as well. In some songs, I throw in a dance break as well. I try to give them the whole package.”
Morrison’s appearance is part of Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Concert Series, in which stage stars are interviewed by Sirius XM radio host and Broadway expert Rudetsky. In the performances, Rudetsky prompts behind-the-scenes stories and accompanies the artists while they sing songs from their Great White Way repertoire.
And Morrison has plenty to draw from. On Broadway, he starred in “Footloose,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Hairspray.” He was nominated for a Tony Award for his 2005 performance in “The Light in the Piazza” and most recently headlined the 2015 Broadway run of “Finding Neverland.”
Here are excerpts from a recent interview.
Have you ever been to Fort Lauderdale?
I’ve never been to Fort Lauderdale. I’ve spent a lot of time in Miami. I travel there with the same group every New Year’s. We’ve also gone to places like Sydney, London. Last year, we were in Hong Kong. But we’ve spent a few New Year’s in Miami. I love staying at the Fontainebleu and going every place in Miami’s nightlife.
If you just did songs from “Glee” and your three albums, you’d fill up a whole show. Are there some career bookmarks that you think you and Seth must hit or reference?
Because the show is so loose, I would say no. He always gets to the big ones like “Hairspray” and “Glee.” One of his favorite shows is “Light in the Piazza,” so I’m pretty sure he’ll do that.
Is this format — chatting off the cuff and then singing a song — thrilling for you, or just plain scary?
I’m very meticulous with my performances, so these performances were always a little daunting to me only because I have no control because Seth is in the driver’s seat and I’m along for the ride. He’s quite funny. He has a great sense of humor. I find myself finding out a lot about myself in the questions he asks. He is very enlightening in that way.
What about the interview questions he asks onstage?
I rarely get scared about these, when it’s about my life. I mean, I should have the answers. I guess it’s more thrilling because he goes way, way back and asks things about childhood and some of the first performances I did. He kind of covers the grand scope of my life. It’s thrilling and nostalgic … going back and talking about the great moments and the hidden meanings. It’s like going to therapy almost.
By the time you were on “Glee,” you were already well known on Broadway. Describe the difference between being a star of the stage and being a star on television.
With “Glee,” when we shot the first 13 shows, we were in a bubble. None of them had even aired before we shot all 13. We lived sitting in this little bubble of innocence. We had no idea what to expect. I mean, at the end of the day, it was a show about singing and dancing high-school students and we didn’t know how it would be received. And then, the next thing I know, I’m sitting on Oprah’s couch. And I’m like, “Oh, wow. This is a different ball game.” That was the moment for me. When I go to different countries all over the world, I’m now recognized most of the time. They don’t know my name. It’s Mr. Schuester. That’s kind of fun. And I love it. I love that it was for a show that actually stood for something. The message of “Glee” was a message of acceptance. It was about the underdog rising up, and we hit a lot of social issues. I’d like to think that for some people it opened up the conversation [on topics like] being gay in high school, teen pregnancy, school shootings. I’m very glad we did that.
Matthew Morrison will perform 8 p.m. Feb. 17 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale (in Holiday Park). Tickets cost $37-$123. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.
Exciting times for the California School of the Arts. Its new campus in the San Gabriel Valley opens in August. This Saturday, interested students will be allowed to preview its academic and arts programs, Matthew Morrison was with us to tell us more.
Most people know Matthew Morrison as the young teacher Will “Mr. Schue” Schuester from the hit TV show “Glee.” But he’s also got a more classic set of influences.
“I’m just trying to emulate my idol, Gene Kelly,” he says. “I’m trying to bring back the modern song-and-dance man to our generation.”
Morrison, 38, is touring the country backed by a jazz band for an evening of standards and favorites, including a performance Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. With his smooth tenor, the “versatile, hard-driving musical frontiersman,” as the New York Times pegs him, pulls from all the different work he’s done over the years.
The “retrospective show” includes an eight-minute medley of songs from the Broadway production of “Hairspray,” during which he runs through the entire story and some “Glee” moments, as well.
“Today’s music is all about coming up with a cool beat,” says Morrison, who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York. “With standards, the classic songwriters of the day would take music and lyrics and tell a story. That’s why I love these songs, because I get to put myself into different characters and really put on a show.”
As the only child of Army nurses, Morrison — who was born at Fort Ord, which closed in 1994 and reopened as Cal State Monterey Bay — discovered musical theater at age 10.
He was living in Orange County when his parents sent him to family in Arizona for the summer.
According to Morrison, “they didn’t really want to deal with me and my cousin so they threw us in a play.”
He was hooked.
After nearly a decade of children’s theater, Orange County High School of the Arts and New York University, he made his Broadway debut in “Footloose.” But his big break came when we was cast as heartthrob Link Larkin in the original Broadway production of “Hairspray.”
More recently he starred in the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” and workshopped Stephen Sondheim’s next musical with the working title “Buñuel” after the Spanish director Luis Buñuel.
Though he’s most comfortable performing for a live audience, Morrison says he likes putting in time in front of the camera.
“These shows and concerts have really allowed me time to read a lot of scripts and go after what I want to do,” he says. “I don’t have to go and jump into a TV show that I don’t want to do because I need the money. It’s such a blessing on so many different levels.”
Look for him as a philandering drunkard in Tom Stoppard’s “Tulip Fever,” a period piece set in Amsterdam during the so-called “Tulip mania” of 1636, when the market for trading tulip bulbs soared to such large sums of money that it inevitably led to a spectacular crash of the Dutch economy.
The film’s star-studded cast includes Oscar winners Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench. It arrives in theaters Feb. 24.
From the moment Broadway and television star Matthew Morrison, as a kid, saw Gene Kelly on the silver screen, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“You’re either an Astaire guy or a Gene Kelly person. … Gene Kelly was the proletariat, the working man,” Morrison explains. “He was just such a man when he was dancing, and that’s what I wanted to emulate.”
The triple threat is adding a third act to his already thriving career with a series of solo concert engagements around the world, including one at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
For Morrison, it’s a chance to carry the torch of Kelly’s legacy into a more intimate and personal setting. While most solo Broadway concert gigs feature a performer singing their heart out on a stool, Morrison brings his signature hoofing into the act. “A big part of my show is dance,” he says.
Morrison rose to fame as the affable, inspiring choir teacher Will Schuester on Fox’s Glee, but theater and live performance have always been his first loves. “It’s like oxygen for me,” he says. Before and after the hit musical television show, Morrison made a career on the Broadway stage – originating the roles of Link Larkin in Hairspray and Fabrizio Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza, and portraying the hunky, morally conflicted Lieutenant Cable in the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Featuring songs from these career highlights, as well as many other jazz and Broadway standards, Morrison’s show tells the actor’s story through song (and dance). “My career is so diverse because I am not just a TV actor or a film actor or a Broadway actor,” he explains.
From South Pacific ballads to an eight-minute song-and-dance medley inspired by Hairspray, Morrison will span the gamut of his career in a mixture of song and dance accompanied by a jazz band (in other venues he’s joined by a symphony orchestra). “Honestly, the biggest appeal for me is being myself. Whenever I do other shows, I’m always playing a character,” he says. “I get to be myself and tell my stories. It’s just a real journey, and it’s my journey, so that’s something I like to share with people.”
The Broadway veteran likens the process of constructing his solo concert to the work of a stand-up comedian, from deciding on a concept for the arc of the show to perfecting the final version. “Like a stand-up comic, you’re constantly working your show, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, throw out this joke, add this one,” he says. “So it’s been a work in progress over the past year, really trying to hone it in.”
Morrison says he aims to create a show with a flexible and diverse range, working in up-tempo songs and never letting it sink under the weight of too many ballads. When it comes to choosing the songs themselves, he says he generally just selects his favorite and then adjusts the set list order to create a fluid performance. Many of the musicals he’s showcasing, including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza, feature multiple solo numbers. In that case, Morrison says he selects the song that best suits his voice, rather than his favorite.
But there’s one song he can’t shake: My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” has been his favorite song most of his life, growing and shifting with him. “That song is one of the first songs I ever sang at school, it’s the song that’s followed me my whole career,” he says. “I’ve sang it at almost every audition I’ve ever done. I booked Glee with that song. And the song has changed for me over the years. It used to be the young guy yearning … but now that I’m married, it’s become more like I’ve gone through the journey, and I will always remain here for you, being your rock.”
Morrison also tries to include songs or moments in his set that speak to each city where he’s performing. He hasn’t settled on what that will be for Los Angeles yet, but says it’s an issue of narrowing it down. His Los Angeles engagement is a homecoming of sorts. The actor grew up in Orange County, attending the renowned Orange County High School of the Arts, and he still leads a bicoastal life, maintaining a home in sunny L.A. “I just love being home here,” he says. “My home here really feels like a home. New York, it’s all apartment living, so it’s very tight quarters. It’s nice to actually walk around and have a nice big kitchen to cook in.”
While he’s thrilled to be back in his California home and in proximity to favorite restaurants and Runyon Canyon, Morrison is most excited to be able to do a live show that friends and family can attend: “It’s rare that I get to come back to Los Angeles. … A lot of friends are going to be able to see what I’ve been doing with my life for the past couple years.”
Morrison also has committed to giving back to his hometown. He regularly visits high schools and college campuses to teach master classes and answer students’ questions, particularly at his alma mater in Orange County. He is part of a group using the Orange County High School of the Arts as a model to open similar schools in the San Gabriel Valley and San Diego County. Morrison says they hope to expand to schools nationwide.
“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the high level, high quality of teaching and learning that I got at that school,” he says. “I owe so much of my success to that school that I want to pay it forward and continue to reach out to the younger generation.” He fondly recalls when Broadway performer Susan Egan (she originated Belle in Disney’s theatrical production of Beauty and the Beast) came to his high school, and he got to dance with her. Morrison says he wants to pass along that experience to the next generation of performers and the reminder that at one time he was just like them, learning from Broadway greats and aspiring to be one. “I’m Mr. Schuester,” he jokes, “I’ve gotta keep the legend alive.”
Not only has Glee brought in a youthful audience to Morrison’s solo shows, but in general it has sparked a resurgence of interest in the Broadway musical. Thanks to cultural phenomenons such as Glee and Hamilton, musical theater is no longer languishing in the shadows as a niche interest. Morrison says he hasn’t noticed it from the inside of the process (“It’s the same experience being a performer”), but that box office numbers and the general interest in musicals has increased. “It’s a great time for Broadway,” he says, “but, on the inside, I feel like it’s still the same tight-knit, great community.”
Morrison hopes his concerts help perpetuate interest in both musical theater and the Great American Songbook. “It was the height of storytelling,” he says. “Today with music, a lot of people are just trying to come up with a cool beat. … We’ve lost that true songwriting in a lot of ways. Back then, it was so simple. You take music and lyrics, and you tell a story, and that was the basis of everything.”
When your concert is about telling your life story, it’s helpful to have a set list that does it for you. “It’s so easy to sing these songs because I really fall into the acting of them,” he says. “They’re so easy to act because they’re really just great stories. When I hear a standard, I almost don’t want the song to end because I just want the story to keep going.”
When it’s Morrison telling the story, it’s hard not to feel the same way.
Matthew Morrison at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.; $75-$115. thebroadstage.com.