Actor-singer will headline the 19th annual Symphony at Salk galaYou might know him as Will Schuester on the TV show “Glee,” but ask actor Matthew Morrison about what really gets his heart pumping, and he’ll tell you it’s performing in front of a live audience.”Television and live performance are very different,” he said. “With television, it’s a taped occurrence with no immediate interaction with an audience. More room is allowed for hiccups and to make things just as the director envisions it. With a live performance
— whether it be theater, music or comedy — there is a very real experience with viewers. The reaction is immediate, and the energy results from the performer’s interaction with the audience, and vice versa.
“Although more demanding, I truly enjoy playing in front of a live audience more than filming,” added Morrison, whose Broadway credits include “Footloose,” “Hairspray” and “The Light in the Piazza,” for which he garnered a Tony nomination. “I feed off of the audience’s energy, and it allows me to get personal with my fans. Television is an amazing vehicle to help expose my talent to a much broader audience, but I will always appreciate my stage performances more.”
His fans here in San Diego will get a chance to see and hear him perform live Aug. 23 when he headlines the Salk Institute’s 19th annual Symphony at Salk. The fundraising event will feature Morrison accompanied by the San Diego Symphony, under the guidance of guest conductor Thomas Wilkins.
Morrison took some time from his schedule to answer some questions about his upcoming Salk performance, his music and what’s on his bucket list.
What can we expect from you at the Salk gala?
Live music on an outdoor stage always makes for a fantastic night out. I’m excited to visit San Diego — one of my favorite cities. And I’m thrilled to perform with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Audiences can expect a great selection of American standards — most of which were made famous on Broadway, but were also covered by some of the greats, like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, to name a few. And of course, I’ll have a number or two for all of my “Glee” fans. My goal at this show is to keep it both classy and fun, with music that both compliments a live symphony orchestra and that is familiar with those attending.
How did your theater experience help you prepare for your role on “Glee”?
“Glee” is such a unique show format for television in the sense that it does incorporate elements of live theater, including the fact that music helps drive the story lines. The role was such a natural transition for me. I think because of my theater experience, I was able to provide some good advice and techniques to those cast mates around me who didn’t come from a theater background.
What kind of music inspired you when you were growing up?
I grew up listening to the music of Broadway. I loved how each song illustrated such a detailed story and allowed the listener to be transported to a specific moment. Composers such as Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein truly had a talent of creating timeless material that transcended generations. Through my live shows, I really try to expose this rich material to audiences who may not be familiar with it. And who knows, perhaps the music I perform will serve as a source of inspiration to my younger audience.
Is there someone who really motivated you to become a singer/actor? Your family? A mentor?
I’m very grateful to have had some great people in my life who supported and encouraged my career path. One of my high-school mentors, Dr. Ralph Opacic, had a big influence on my decision making. In my junior year of high School, Ralph sat me down because I was faced with the dilemma of either focusing on athletics (soccer) or the arts. His words of encouragement to stick with the arts had a big effect on me, and I’m thankful to have had that conversation with him that day.
What is Matthew Morrison like away from the lights and glamour of Hollywood — what do you like to do to unwind?
My fiancé and I love to cook at home. It’s one of those experiences that you can really connect with friends and family. I also enjoy running and practicing yoga. Both help clear my head and keep me focused on my projects.
What was your most recent iTunes download?
Most recent download is probably Sam Smith’s new album. So good!
What song would we be most surprised to find on your iPod?
I was really into rap and hip hop when I was a teenager. I used to enjoy breakdancing on a piece of cardboard with my friends. I have Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Easy E all on my iPod. And it always puts a nostalgic smile to my face whenever those songs come on.
Describe an ideal day off — when you’re not performing or taping?
I love nature. Getting out for a nice hike or run is priceless to me. Especially if I’m out surrounded by trees.
What’s on your bucket list that you’re dying to do next?
Hopefully to have some little ones running around within the next five years! Always wanted to experience being a father.
More than a few times in his life, Matthew Morrison has had gay friends choose him as the first person to come out to. “I’m open, a really good listener, a good friend,” he reasons. “I think I’m a safe person to start with, and hopefully that journey just goes on and on for them. I’m really flattered I could be that person for several people.”The actor, who stars as Will Schuester on Glee, adds, “I’m very happy to be a part of a world where two men and two women can actually get married in some places now. I’m excited to see what the future brings.”Glee hasn’t been afraid to tackle LGBT issues over the years and Morrison is keenly aware of the impact it’s had on its young audience. “I think it did so much good in our world,” he says. “It brought a lot of social issues to light
— being gay in high school, bullying — that we’re faced with. I’m really proud of the way we’ve handled those situations.”
Next Thursday, July 10, Morrison will bring years of Broadway and screen experience to a performance with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap. “I’m the classic song and dance man,” he says of his planned repertoire. “A lot of the old standards reinterpreted in my own way, and timeless classics I just love to sing.” Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti, who recently sang with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, will appear alongside Morrison as a featured guest. “It gives me the opportunity to do something different,” he enthused. “We’ll sing a couple duets, and then she’ll do some of her stuff.”
He’s also looking forward to working with NSO Pops conductor Steven Reineke again. “He’s a trumpet player, so he especially gets the kind of music I’m trying to do, because my stuff — I guess you would say it swings a little bit more.”
With Glee entering its final season, Emmy- and Tony-nominated Morrison — who starred on Broadway in the original casts of Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza – is looking forward to what the future will bring.
“I’m so lucky to live this life and to be an entertainer,” he says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do — and to do it at the kind of level I’m doing it, is something that I wish everyone could experience… I try to make every performance genuine and true. I’m very happy with my life, my family, my soon to be wife. It’s all good in Morrison’s neighborhood.” – Randy Shulman
Matthew Morrison appears with the NSO at Wolf Trap on Thursday, July 10 at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $22 to $75. For more info visit wolftrap.org or call 877-WOLFTRAP.
He may have entered your home as Mr. Schue on the hit TV series, “Glee,” but Matthew Morrison — actor, dancer, singer-songwriter — said that his home is on the stage.
“I grew up on the stage, and it feels like what I was born to do,” he said by phone from his home in New York. “I feel most alive; I feel like I’m my true, authentic self on stage, and I’m a happy person.”
Morrison was in New York between trips to Amsterdam to work on the film “Tulip Fever,” a costume drama starring Judy Dench, Zach Galifinakis and Christoph Waltz, and concert shows such as the one he’ll be doing in Boone in July with the Greensboro Symphony at the Appalachian Summer Festival
His agent hustled him “someplace quiet” to talk while work was being done on the apartment that he shares with his fiancée, model Renee Puente.
Morrison, best known as Will Schuester in “Glee,” had a successful career on Broadway before being cast as the high school Spanish teacher turned choir director in 2009. He received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the role.
Megan Stage works in the Office of Arts and Cultural Programs and Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at Appalachian State University, which produces Appalachian Summer Festival.
“The festival always tries to round out the season with the Broadway artist … between some of the country, folk and pop artists we bring,” Stage said. “It’s a great addition to the musical acts we host each summer. Matthew Morrison is a popular TV actor with his role on ‘Glee,’ but we have seen him perform on Broadway, his first love, and when we saw he was touring, we all agreed he’d be a perfect fit for the festival.”
Morrison grew up in California and started performing in high school.
After studying musical theater, vocal performance and dance at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York, he dropped out to make his debut on Broadway in “Footloose,” followed by a role in “The Rocky Horror Show.”
But Morrison’s breakout role was Link Larkin in the original Broadway cast of “Hairspray” in 2002. That role led to his being cast in the critically acclaimed “The Light in the Piazza”; he received a Tony Award nomination for the role of Fabrizio Nacarelli in 2005.
Ryan Murphy, the “Glee” creator, scouted Morrison and several other actors from Broadway shows because he was looking for actors who could understand the excitement of performing for a live audience, even though the TV show is shot on a soundstage without an audience.
“Glee” is a popular musical comedy-drama TV series that focuses on the fictitious William McKinley High School glee club, New Directions. The show choir competes while its members deal with relationships, sexuality, social issues and learning to become an effective team. The show lost some of its momentum when Cory Montieth, who played Finn, the popular quarterback, died of a drug overdose in 2013.
Shortly afterward, Murphy announced that the show’s next season, its sixth, would be its last.
“Next year we’re doing 13 episodes,” Morrison said. “We’re coming to our last season. I’m incredibly proud of the ride that it’s taken us all on. It dealt with sensitive issues that adults and young people go through. I’m very proud to have been part of a show like that.”
The creators and cast dealt with the sudden loss of Montieth by presenting a memorial episode, called “The Quarterback,” and then put the show on a brief hiatus.
“He (Montieth) was a huge part of the show, and he really connected with a lot of people,” Morrison said. “And, for me, watching him grow on the show was gratifying. He grew more than any other person on the show.”
Morrison, who one critic described as a “joyful” live performer, said that performing for a big or small audience doesn’t make much difference to him.
“At the end of the day, you’re just doing the best you can do to give an honest performance,” Morrison said. “The difference between playing to 2,000 people on stage or 5 million on TV is not really such a big deal.
“The biggest difference is the tone of it. On TV, you have to be a little bit smaller and more contained. You have to think that the audience can see your emotions more easily.”
There’s one other difference.
“Once you’re exposed to that kind of audience, you are pretty much open game for anyone walking down the street to stop you and notice things,” he said. “I’m very happy that my TV success happened when I was already 30.
“My fiancée and I are homebodies now. Besides being out there in the public eye, we live boring, domesticated lives: cooking, entertaining friends and enjoying our own company.”
And he cooks. “You enjoy food more when you know the work that goes into it,” he said.
At Appalachian Summer Festival, Morrison will be performing a combination of jazz standards and Broadway show tunes, including a seven-minute “West Side Story” medley.
He’s bringing his own conductor, Chris Waldon, and his own piano player, Brad Ellis, also from “Glee.”
“He (Ellis) is just as famous as I am,” Morrison said. “He’s the piano player on the show. It’s great that we get to do this outside of our day job and travel the world doing these shows.”
Walden did many of the musical arrangements on Morrison’s two record albums — “Where It All Began” (2013), a Broadway-inspired album, and “Matthew Morrison” (2011), a pop record that includes duets with Sting and Elton John, and Morrison’s single, “Summer Rain.”
Morrison and Stage said that they hope his “Glee” fame will serve to draw younger people to hear the Greensboro Symphony.
“Between Broadway and Glee, he is relatable to all generations,” Stage said. “We love bringing in the younger demographic to our shows … an artist to get young people in the door and excited to see a live performance. Matthew Morrison can do just that, but he will also appeal to our current patrons and festival audiences. This is one of those shows that will blend our audiences together which is always special to see.”
Morrrison said, “I feel like sometimes orchestras draw an older crowd, but there’s so much you can learn by going to these shows. A grandparent can bring their grandchild. I think I can bring in a younger audience. The whole evening for me is a whole lot of fun.
“These songs are timeless.I love seeing anybody sing their songs; everybody brings their own story to these songs we know and love.”
He’s done TV, movies and records, but Morrison said he still feels most at home on the stage.
“The stage is where I grew up. I did my first show when I was 19, and it’s been seven years since I was on the (Broadway) stage,” he said. “That’s the impetus for me to do these concerts. I miss the energy of working with a live audience.
“I want to start performing for the people again.”
There was a time when the name of Glee character Will Schuesterwas more familiar to the public than the actor who portrayed him. Perhaps for some that’s still the case. But you really can’t blame anyone for that.
Whether it’s because viewers strongly relate to having one educator who helped shape their identities or because they wished they had such a positive role model in their lives, Mr. Schue is an archetype who inspires fans to follow their dreams.
But the man who plays Mr. Schue is more than a symbol. Actor, dancer, musician and singer-songwriter Matthew Morrison is slated to headline theHouston Symphony’s “Centennial Ball,” scheduled for Saturday at Jones Hall. The fundraiser, chaired by Cora Sue and Harry Mach and Joella and Steven Mach, is a white-tie event that celebrates the curtain call of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary season.
Ahead of the glitzy musicale, CultureMap chatted with Morrison over the phone to learn more about his journey in show biz.
CultureMap: We love Mr. Schue because he reminds us of that one high school teacher who really believed in us. Curious, did you have a role model like Mr. Schue growing up?
Matthew Morrison: I actually did. My teacher, his name was Mr. Doran, was my ninth grade English teacher. He’s an enthusiastic guy — I don’t know if he taught me how to use a comma — but you couldn’t help being captivated by him. He owned the room, had an infectious attitude and you could tell he loved teaching, and that’s why he made you love being a student in his class. He made you feel like you wanted to be there because he obviously wanted to be there.
I went to his classroom one day after I got Glee and said to him, “I am basing a lot of my character on you, and I would like to take something from your classroom to bring into my choir room.” It’s in probably almost every episode of Glee when you see the choir room. It’s a porcelain wiener dog, a plant holder or something, that we switch around and put in different places. It’s my homage to Mr. Doran.
CM: What’s the most important value he imparted in you?
MM: To enjoy live. That was in him. His thing was carpe diem, and that’s something that was instilled in me.
CM: I’d like to think that everyone with whom we cross paths influences us in someway. Cory Monteith’s death was tragic, a loss that affected everyone. What did you learn from Cory?
MM: When we started Glee, Cory was our biggest project. He was the person who we didn’t know would work because he hadn’t sung before professionally. He was kind of the question mark.
I think what I learned most from Cory was the power of dedication. He was so dedicated to getting better every single day. Throughout the years, I, as someone who was with him everyday, saw that growth. As a viewer you saw that, too, in his character, in his performance. I was really proud of him.
He would have been a lifelong friend for me. He was probably the person whom I was most close to in the show. It was a tragic loss — for everyone.
CM: Do you have a favorite Glee episode or one you watch the most?
MM: I think I watch the pilot episode more than others probably because it was the first one out. You see a script, and we thought it was a good script, but we didn’t know what it was going to evolve into. After a couple of screenings, we would get together at someone’s house and watch it. We would take a dinner break and watch it again. We couldn’t believe how it turned out. It was so amazing and beautiful. It really set the tone for the rest of the series.
CM: How did you land the part of Mr. Schue in the first place?
MM: I was doing South Pacific on Broadway at the time, and I just put myself on tape. The producer saw it, they auditioned me in New York and I guess they really liked me. They flew me out to Los Angeles and I got the part. Luckily,South Pacific was good enough to let me out for a month to shoot the pilot. And that’s how it happened.
CM: I hear there was lucky footwear involved. Is that true?
MM:Ryan Murphy (Glee co-creator) is really into fashion. He was admiring my boots, a pair of beat up old motorcycle boots that he just absolutely loved. When I came into the audition, it wasn’t about me. It was about the boots. We had a 15 minute conversation before I even got to audition.
CM: For your shows, you seem to pull off the classic look of the 1960s. Where do you shop?
MM: I do classic American standards. So I try to emulate the classic look of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Sammy Davis. Those are the people that I look to for style, but I put my own twist on it and modernize it with a bow tie or a little accessory that changes a whole outfit.
For my shows, I love Brooks Brothers. They’ve been around for a long time; they were around in that period. It’s a classic American company. Especially in the past two years, because they did the Great Gatsby movie, they have many great pieces.
CM: From your albums and singles, what’s the song that has the most personal meaning for you?
MM: There’s a song called “My Name.” It’s a very personal song that I wrote with this English guy named Eg White. The song represents what I was going through at the time. It was a time when I would walk down the street and people would yell, “Mr. Schue, Mr. Schue!” That’s how people identified me. No one really knew my name.
CM: Are wedding plans still on for next year? Where are you and Renee Puente getting married?
MM: They sure are. We’ve had a great time doing it, too. You hear all these horror stories about wedding planning, but we have this great wedding planer, his name is Kevin Covey. He’s done a lot of weddings nationally and he’s someone who’s made life really easy for us. It’s going to be a very small wedding in Hawaii.
CM: I hear you’re about to start filming a new movie?
MM: That is true! It’s called After the Reality. It’s a script that I came across and I wanted to do it. I decided to executive produce it as well as star in it. It’s a great indie flick. I’ve put a lot of work into reworking scenes.
For my role, I wanted to take a departure from Mr. Schuester. He’s a dark character, a guy who’s been running away from life. He and his sister, who’s played by a great actress, Sarah Chalke, they are dealing with the death of their father so they have to come back home and rekindle things with their family. It’s a great movie with a lot of twists and turns. We’ve assembled a great cast so expect a lot of fun cameos in it.
CM: What do you have planned for your Houston Symphony performance?
MM: I will be finishing up a long day on Friday with the movie and flying just in time for Saturday. I am excited also because Steven Reineke is conducting. He’s someone with whom I just worked a couple of weeks ago for my Carnegie Hall debut. He’s a fantastic conductor. He’s already familiar with a lot of my songs, but I am going to throw in a few new songs that I haven’t done before as well.
CM: Have you been to Houston before?
MM: My dad and I took a road trip years ago from New York to California. We drove through Houston but didn’t stop there. Unfortunately I have to fly in and fly out.
CM: If you can, get in some barbecue while you are here.
Matthew attends the ‘Hand To God’ Off Broadway opening night at Lucille Lortel Theatre on March 10, 2014 in New York City (HQ pictures). Public Events –> 2014 –> “Hand Of God” Off-Broadway Opening Night – Arrivals (March 10)
Matthew Morrison, the well-seasoned musical theater star, who is best known today for playing the high school music teacher Will Schuester on Fox-TV’s hit “Glee,” headlines Dominican University’s annual Trustee Benefit Gala Saturday, at the school’s Lund Auditorium in River Forest.
Calling recently from California, Morrison chatted about his love of performing before a live audience, about “Glee” during this season following the tragic death of actor Cory Monteith, and how his TV show has changed so many kids’ lives.
Q: What’s it like for you to put together a concert gig like the one you’re doing here Saturday?
A: I do a couple of gala events a year. Usually I tour around with different symphony orchestras. But for this particular concert I’m bringing my 5-piece band. I love doing shows like that because it gives us a chance to get together, and with an orchestra gig, you’re kind of stuck with a routine. Those are fine, but with those kinds of concerts, the whole orchestra has to be on the same page and have the right music up at the right time. Whereas with these kinds of gigs — what we’re doing this weekend — you can feel the audience a bit more. Depending on what mood they’re in, you can change the order up right then and there. It makes things more free and spontaneous.
Q: With “Glee,” you often bring in well-known major stars. What’s that like for you and the rest of the cast?
A: Recently we finished our 100th episode. That was a milestone none of us ever saw when we got started. It’s been great having stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kristen Chenoweth on the show — and not only on, but coming back for repeat guest appearances. Those high-quality actresses bring so much to the show. For me personally, it’s great because I get to interact with someone different than just the kids and Sue Sylvester [AKA Dolton’s ownJane Lynch]. So it’s just different. It’s a nice change up for me.
Q: Speaking of Jane Lynch, did she give you any tips on where to go or where to eat when you’re in town?
A: I’m sure I’ll definitely get tips from Jane before I come, because she’s been there more often — back visiting family and so forth. But I’ve been to Chicago a lot. I did a tour of ‘Footloose’ years ago and I’ve traveled there a lot, because I have a lot of friends who live in Chicago. It’s a great theater town. I love that aspect about it in particular.
Q: You must be delighted by the positive effect “Glee” has had on encouraging kids to participate in the arts — particularly music.
A: To be honest, when we went into this, I don’t think we expected all that to happen. But when that whole wave of interest in school choirs and glee clubs started happening — it was the most beautiful thing. I’m so proud of public arts education and happy our show has helped foster a renewed interest in that — and show people why it’s so important. I was so lucky to stumble into the arts when I was 10 years old. I found my passion at such a young age. I think that’s so much more accessible to kids now, thanks to how things are communicated so quickly and so far.
Q: Obviously, it’s been a tough year on “Glee,” starting with the loss of Cory Monteith. What has that been like from your perspective?
A: Most shows go through a lot of changes, but then there are terrible changes you don’t really expect to happen. But with that comes a lot more depth of experience. We’ve all experienced that loss of Cory as a family. And it has deepened our relationships with each other and with the show. We do a lot of stuff in honor of him. We talk about him all the time on set. There’s a big plaque with his picture on it on the set, so we see him and think about him every single day. It’s been trying, but also a beautiful thing at the same time — thanks to the way we all have come together and worked through our mutual grief.