Interwoven throughout the narration was music from their best loved musicals, beginning with the choir’s rendition of “It’s a Grand Night of Singing from STATE FAIR and featuring numbers from OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. What better songs to showcase the mellifluous pipes of the incomparable Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly, reunited after starring together in the original cast of FINDING NEVERLAND? They were featured heavily throughout the evening, including in duets such as “People Will Say We’re in Love” from OKLAHOMA! and such memorable solos as Kelly’s “(When I Marry) Mister Snow” from CAROUSEL and Morrison’s “Younger than Springtime” from SOUTH PACIFIC (which he performed in the Lincoln Center revival).
Both showed a playful side, with Morrison leading the choir and dancing through the title song from OKLAHOMA! and Kelly taking off her shoes and gifting a flower to a choir member in “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from SOUTH PACIFIC.
The highlight of the show was the unexpected inclusion of the “Wedding Processional” in a medley from THE SOUND OF MUSIC that included classic Mormon Tabernacle Choir arrangements of the title song and “Climb Every Mountain.” The scale of the performance of the processional from Richard Elliott at the massive pipe organ with the orchestra and choir was nothing short of thrilling.
The concert ended on a high note with an inspiring finale in which Morrison and Kelly joined the choir and orchestra to perform the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from CAROUSEL under the breathtaking star-lit sky suspended above them.
Matthew Morrison, is known for starring in Glee, but long before that he treaded the boards of Broadway in Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific and most recently Finding Neverland. Now he is performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below until January 13th and this is a show not to miss. Morrison exudes a natural sex appeal. He claims in his show, that Feinstein’s/54 Below is the sexiest room, but this is the sexiest show, as Morrison seduces his audience with charisma galore. Starting off with a crooning “Nice N Easy,” Morrison entered from the front of the room, making audience members swoon with joy as he passed their table. Sounding and oozing the same charge, that Frank Sinatra did. His smooth stylings gave way to a man with a heart, when a young girl almost fainted with glee, was allowed a selfie with him. I have never seen anyone as delighted as this girl was. All night the cell camera’s were zoomed in so as not to miss a moment.
Next up was a sinful “On The Street Where You Live.” All I can say is if the revival of My Fair Lady has this version, it is sure to smolder.
Father to 12-week-old son Revel James Makail, John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” brought lyrics that really affected the singer, but it was “As Long As He Needs Me” from Oliver that his emotional ties to his son came through. The arrangement had Jimmy Emerson on flute and it added to the plaintiveness of the song. Also on “Waiting on the World to Change” there were some mean solos by Emerson on Sax and Daniel Kalischer on guitar.
Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” showed off the singers dancing skills, as well as some soul. Morrison feeds off the energy of his fans as he gyrated with a sinewy grace. During the song his hand slide down the mike as if making love to it and I can guarantee most of the audience wished it was them instead of that mike.
In “Hey There” from Pajama Game, Morrison oozed boyish charm as he played the ukulele. This was in tribute to his first gig as a back-up singer for Don Ho.
Brad Ellis, the arranger from Glee, is Morrison’s musical director and played the keys, but it was his arrangement of Cole Potter’s “It’s Alright With Me” that rocked the house. Morrison pulled some Bob Fosse moves that shook the house. Bass player Gary Wicks and drummer Pete Antunes also showed mad skills.
“We Kiss In The Shadow” was Morrison’s tribute to gay marriage and what life was like before acceptance.
His South Pacific medley made me want to see his performance and made me realize what a talented musician this man truly is.
Nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as Fabrizio in The Light In The Piazza “Il Mondo Era Vuoto,” was my favorite of the night. Stating “that show was the hardest I’ve ever done. It’s also the highlight of my career,” he vocally soared. It is in a more classical sound, that Morrison impresses and impress he does.
Keeping us up to date with the shows he has performed in, a Finding Neverland medley followed. A nine-minute Hairspray medley had Morrison rocking and rolling. It is clear he has a complete love for this show.
“Come Rain or Come Shine/ Basin Street Blues” allowed the whole band to show off. Morrison surrounds himself with some of best musicians and the caliber of this show is exceptional. For opening night Morrison’s guest was his wife Renee and the curtain call number was a medley of two Beatle songs for the girl who has knitted his young sons caps.
Morrison is personable and makes sure that everyone has a great seat and a fabulous time. His humor is a little sarcastic, but with a devilish charm. Morrison has that “it” factor and has talent galore. How Broadway hasn’t snatched him up to star in a role written for him is beyond puzzling. Do not miss this show as it is one of the best I have seen in a long time.
Oozing charm, exuding confidence and with a sense of effortless style, Broadway’s song-and-dance man Matthew Morrison makes his Music City debut in a three-night stand at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, backed by the Grammy Award-winning musicians of the Nashville Symphony under the baton of conductor Steven Jarvi.
Morrison’s performance covers a number of songs made famous by him on Broadway – and in other genres by other entertainers – with each tune segueing nicely from one to another with requisite polish and the thoroughly accessible personality that allows him to gain entre into the collective audience of his attentive audience. Handsome and easy-going, Morrison’s matinee idol good looks might be disarming, but it’s his obvious talents that is sure to win over more adoring fans to his camp.
Morrison, whose laudable and noteworthy Broadway tenure includes Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific and, most recently, Finding Neverland draws on his wealth of stage experience to delight his Nashville audiences, while never letting them even for the briefest moment forget that he starred in TV’s Glee, the Ryan Murphy juggernaut that made high school showchoirs and mashups of popular songs part of the pop culture zeitgeist of the 21st century.
Bounding onto the stage in the best manner of nightclub performers and concert artists who’ve claimed the Great American Songbook as their inspiration, Morrison delivers a 90-minute show that’s energetic and entertaining, filled with reminiscences of his life and career and featuring some of the best-known tunes to be found in the catalog of 20th century pop, jazz and Broadway classics. Opening with “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and closing with an extended set of songs from his first Broadway hit Hairspray (he was the show’s original Link Larkin on the Great White Way) – and with a plethora of tunes, most beloved and familiar, in between (including a swell version of Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp” that I could listen to on a loop from now to doom’s day and never regret it for a second), Morrison shows off the talents that have set him apart among male performers of his generation and background.
Telling us in an interview prior to his Nashville stand, Morrison admitted he may have been born in the wrong era, so strongly does he identify with the musical standards that have drawn a wide range of song stylists to them over the years. Onstage, he approaches the material with an easy grace and effortless charm that helps these familiar tunes sound fresh, if not completely new, ushering his audience into their own reverie of memories in a way that only the best melodies can do.
Each song in Morrison’s repertoire seems personally curated to represent times in his life that resonate beautifully both for performer and audience: “Singin’ in the Rain” allows him to pay homage to his personal idol Gene Kelly; “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and “Some Enchanted Evening” recall his stint in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival (but where was “Younger Than Springtime,” I wonder, particularly since his character – Lt. Joe Cable – performs it in the context of the show); and his jazz-influenced “On the Street Where You Live” harkens back to “every audition I’ve ever done since high school.”
Perhaps the most heartfelt performance comes during his rendition of “As Long As She Needs Me” from Oliver! that is beautifully expressive and sweetly evocative with being at all cloying or expected. Yet, easily, Morrison is most impressive (ensuring every eye is riveted upon him as he sings) with Adam Guettel‘s exquisite “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” from The Light in the Piazza, which the singer/actor maintains to this day — whether in his onstage patter or in a private conversation — is his most challenging role to date.
Joined onstage by a ten-member ensemble of student singers from Summit High School, Morrison pays tribute both to his time on Glee and his first record album to perform a pair of songs by Sir Elton John: a mashup of “Mona Lisa,” “Mad Hatters” and “Rocket Man” that exemplifies John’s vast catalog of songs, just as easily as it showcases Morrison’s vocal stylings.
Jarvi and the Nashville Symphony open the performance with a medley of songs from West Side Story, which sound as lush and as beautiful as ever and start the evening off with the appropriate sense of theatrical fare. But what’s with the white dinner jackets? According to my calendar, at least, Easter is still more than a week away!
Matthew Morrison didn’t get a chance to sing and dance Thursday night as much as he might have in one of his more traditional concert programs, but audiences got to know a lot more about him during his performance with accompanist and interviewer Seth Rudetsky at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The show was a combination concert (with Rudetsky at the piano) and Q&A session, with Rudetsky interviewing Morrison the way he might one of his guests on his Sirius XM programs on the Broadway channel.
Between songs, Rudetsky and Morrison sat in armchairs in a faux living room setting for a bit of conversation that allowed us to see the personal side of Morrison. Under Rudetsky’s comical yet earnestly curious prodding, Morrison talked about falling in love with theater at age 10 when he was staying in Arizona with relatives who sent all the kids to a summer theater camp.
He also admitted to being in a quasi “gang” that spray-painted buildings in junior high school in Orange County. “In Orange County?” Rudetsky asked. “What did you spray paint, Disneyland?”
The questions had Morrison blushing at times, which just made him, and the program, seem more genuine, charming and gracious.
And that same sense of charm comes out in this song and dance man’s easy, almost effortless performing style. He grew up idolizing Gene Kelly, and eventually got to live out his dream by appearing or starring in seven Broadway shows and playing school choir director Will Schuester in the Fox hit “Glee.”
The musical part of his program included several songs from his studio album “Where it all Began,” in which he displayed a clear and pleasing voice on such songs as “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Younger than Springtime” from “South Pacific,” in which he starred in a Broadway revival. And his tone was pure and sweet, singing a song from his Tony-nominated role in “The Light in the Piazza.”
He moves with grace and polish and can still hit the high notes even when he’s a bit breathless.
He also talked about his skills as a breakdancer, and his days in both a fake boy band performing skits on David Letterman’s “The Late Show,” and the early days of a real one called LMNT. He hated it, he said, because “it was so fake. There was no art in it.”
His passion for live theater was always clear. Even when he was doing “Glee” and building a wide fan base around the world, Morrison longed to be back on stage. He went on a concert tour around the time of his first album just to have a live stage fix. And as soon as the show’s run ended in 2015, he went right back to Broadway to play writer J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland.”
Morrison closed the show with an extended medley of songs from “Hairspray,” in which he created the role of Link Larkin. The songs kept him moving and swiveling his hips with flair and getting the audience to clap along.
And Rudetsky was right there with him, as much fan as performer. He admitted to recently undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon on one of his biceps, and said that Thursday’s show was his first time being allowed to play the piano in more than a month. You’d never have known.
Beginning a new season of Broadway Up Close concerts on Saturday at the The Kimmel Center, Seth Rudetsky hosted Broadway leading man and television’s favorite choir teacher, Matthew Morrison, for an evening of song, dance, and candid conversation. Beloved for his silky tenor, killer dance moves, and winning smile, Morrison flooded the stage of the Perelman Theater with his own brand of intoxicating charisma while featuring some of musical theater’s greatest hits.
With an impressive resume including hits such as Hairspray, South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza, and most recently a star turn in Finding Neverland, the average audience member will no doubt recognize Matthew Morrison from six seasons as Will Schuester, the faculty advisor for a ragtag group of teens in the Fox crossover hit, Glee. Seth Rudetsky brings his own arsenal of credits to the mix from accompanying within the Broadway community to authoring multiple books on the business, writing and producing his own work in New York, and hosting in the afternoon on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s On Broadway.
The Broadway Up Close series combines a casual cabaret style with a talk-show interview format where Rudetsky (usually at the piano, though unfortunately injured for this evening) mixes his intimate knowledge of the business with playful jabs at his peers; in this case making Morrison blush over stories of his early days in a boy band. Like so many Broadway favorites, Morrison’s big break came from being the eager understudy who was at the right place at the right time. From the out-of-town tryout in Seattle, he exploded onto the New York stage in Hairspray as Link Larkin, the 1960s teen dance show heartthrob.
Morrison’s style seems to blend his boy band background with classic crooning for a mixture of mellow suaveness and effervescent agility. Where any other vocalist would spend an instrumental break grabbing a sip of water or politely acknowledging the accompanist, Morrison breaks out in an explosive mini-dance routine, effortless yet filled with energy, reminiscent of Fred Astaire. And after breathing life into old jazz standards, he is able to captivate with classics of the musical theater repertoire such as “On the Street Where You Live,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” and a rousing medley from West Side Story.
The evening’s sweetest treat was by far a small taste of Morrison’s Tony-nominated turn as young Fabrizio Naccarelli in Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. Described as the most challenging role he ever faced, his rendition of “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” oozed with all the passion of an Italian aria and the discipline of a highly-dedicated vocalist. Along with a few other features from Hairspray and a full out Gene Kelly “Singin’ in the Rain” encore, Morrison’s charm and good looks are outranked only by his vaulting range, with its muscular clarity and yet fragile intensity where needed.
Broadway Up Close is unique chance to hear from artists as performers and storytellers simultaneously, a setting especially flattering to a talent like Matthew Morrison. The evening mixes a wide range of favorite songs with his tales of rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s most powerful personalities, all while having the best dressing room on Broadway. Not to mention his risky teenage years as a breakdancing gang member tagging “Skylar” on the not-so-rough streets of Orange County, California.
With a star-studded lineup this season including Chita Rivera, Alice Ripley, and Vanessa Williams, this concert series is a great alternative to the standard cabaret setup and a treat for any lover of musical theater.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
When I last saw Matthew Morrison at Feinstein’s/54 Below, his close friend and co-star on the television series “Glee,” Cory Monteith, had just died. As Mr. Morrison sang “What I Did for Love,” from “A Chorus Line,” in tribute, the room vibrated with a collective sorrow and dismay. That sentimental but tough show-business anthem, with its implicit message that the show would go on, hit just the right note at a sensitive moment.
Three years have passed, and at Saturday’s opening-night performance of his show at the same club, he commemorated the tragedy with a performance of the much more anguished Coldplay song “Fix You,” sung in a keening semi-falsetto. It was the most emotional moment in a show that revealed Mr. Morrison as a versatile, hard-driving musical frontiersman leveling the territory separating genres.
Mr. Morrison, who recently starred in the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland,” has a farsighted vision that encompasses rock, jazz and swing. By opening the show with a Frank Sinatra signature song, “Come Fly With Me,” followed by “The Lady Is a Tramp,” he boldly staked his claim to the realm occupied by Michael Bublé, who is three years older and whom he resembles physically and vocally, although Mr. Morrison is a tenor and Mr. Bublé a baritone. It was another of many signs that the Sinatra lounge tradition is not about to vanish anytime soon.
Accompanying Mr. Morrison was a quintet, directed by Brad Ellis on piano, that nimbly followed him from place to place. Mr. Morrison broke into some aggressive dance moves that showed him to be more of fighter than a floater. His tenderest singing was reserved for a medley from “The Light in the Piazza,” which revealed his facility at semi-operatic declamation. The evening ended with a suite of songs from “Hairspray,” in which he originated the role of the show’s heartthrob, Link Larkin. That Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman score stands as Broadway’s purest and wittiest distillation of the early-60s pop ethos before the British invasion changed everything.
This weekend, Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominated performer Matthew Morrison performed with the Louisville Orchestra as a part of their pops series.
The first half of the show featured just the Louisville Orchestra playing an assortment of Broadway show tunes and movie scores including the overture to West Side Story, a Frozen medley, and even John Williams’ score from the film E.T.
After intermission, Matthew Morrison took the stage at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall to sing songs from his latest album Where It All Began, which is a collection of staple songs from America’s past that includes jazz, show tunes, and more. He performed a West Side Story medley, “It Don’t Mean a Thing,”The Lady is a Tramp,”Send in the Clowns,” and so many more. Before he started singing “Younger Than Springtime” from South Pacific, he joked about having to perform the song shirtless at Lincoln Center. He explained that taking his shirt off for a performance in Lincoln Center was considered art, but, if he did it here, it’d just be another day at Kentucky Kingdom.
The orchestra, under the direction of conductor Bob Bernhardt, sounded amazing, and Morrison’s voice shined. Like a true professional vocalist, his voice was perfectly on pitch all the time – even while he was dancing! It was a real treat to hear his dulcet vocals in person. A charmer, Morrison involved the audience a few times by choosing a few lucky ladies to dedicate his songs to and to dance with.
Upcoming Louisville Orchestra events include a concert with Ben Folds in January and the rest of their pops series which will feature The Midtown Men, Live and Let Die: The Music of Paul McCartney, and Symphonic Swing with Five By Design. For more information about the Louisville Orchestra, click here. If last night was any indication of just how great the Louisville Orchestra is, I highly recommend checking out the rest of their pops series.
You can catch Matthew Morrison on the last season of Glee on Fox and starring in New York City’s Broadway production of Finding Neverland in the Spring of 2015. And, if you ever get the chance to see Morrison in concert, take it!
Matthew Morrison’s evening with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra began with the TV star peeking out of a side door, outfitted in a tux and black fedora, microphone in hand, introducing himself.
“… Here in a role he was born to play,” Morrison boomed in his best announcer voice, before pausing for a beat, then adding, “because he’s playing himself!”
Lest you thought Morrison was born to play Will Schuester, the fashionably optimistic choir director on the Fox hit “Glee,” he clarified that too.
“I’m not really a high school teacher – I just play one on TV,” he told the mostly full audience inside Kleinhans Music Hall. “I spend my days in classy music halls like this one.”
Actually, for the next couple of months, Morrison is spending most of his days on a Los Angeles soundstage, filming the final season of “Glee’s” six-year run. But after that, he’s likely back to his Broadway roots. Which means Morrison – who before “Glee” starred in “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and “The Light in the Piazza” – will be singing live with much more frequency than the handful of orchestra concerts he’s doing this fall.
And that’s a good thing, because by all indications from his Buffalo show, the 35-year-old is poised to revive a form of musical performance he feels has faded: the song-and-dance man.
In a two-hour show that featured about 70 minutes of Morrison’s music along with a trio of BPO songs led by guest conductor John Morris Russell, he covered 13 songs with the orchestra backing him. Morrison opened with the 1931 Duke Ellington and Irving Mills tune, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” then worked his way through a blend of Broadway and jazz numbers, the best of which was a rendition of Dean Martin’s “Sway.”
Morrison personalized some numbers; for example, to “The Lady is a Tramp,” he added the localized lyrics, “She likes a ball game, thinks the Bills are fine … Jim Kelly is a friend of mine.”
(Interesting side note: Morrison has a Western New York connection. His dad, who accompanied him to Buffalo, is a Niagara University grad.)
He talked about the wistfulness of elusive love while leading into “Street Where You Live” and “As Long as She Needs Me,” the latter a gender-flipped version the “Oliver” number “As Long as He Needs Me.”
Trim and muscular with smooth dancing ability, Morrison knows his sex appeal. He doesn’t flaunt it, but doesn’t ignore it either. He told the audience about his role in “South Pacific” that required him to sing shirtless at Lincoln Center eight times a week. He offered to do the same on stage at Kleinhans, and started loosening his bow tie – one of the few times the politely quiet orchestra crowd started buzzing.
Then he stopped.
“I only take my shirt off in Lincoln Center,” Morrison said, tie dangling from both sides of his collar. “In Lincoln Center, it’s art.
“In Buffalo, it’s a Bills game in December.”
Morrison is ever the showman. But he wasn’t the only one on stage.
Guest conductor Russell sparkled, too. From exuberantly mouthing the words to both the U.S. and Canadian anthems to telling stories on stage before Morrison emerged in both the first and second acts, Russell was entertaining.
In fact, he was almost too entertaining for a show in which he wasn’t the star.
Take what happened during a punchy version of Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” which was arranged by Morrison’s musical director and pianist Brad Ellis (who’s also the pianist on “Glee”): Morrison tapped Russell, took his baton and started conducting the orchestra. Russell took Morrison’s microphone and started singing.
It was entertaining, for sure, but you also had the sense Morrison and Russell were slightly competing for the spotlight. Continue reading »
Undeterred by Thursday night’s rainstorm, it was a slightly soggy yet enthusiastic crowd that turned out for Matthew Morrison in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra and special guest Laura Benanti at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap on July 10, 2014. They were not disappointed—the energy of the performers, as well as their amazing talent, made for one of the most entertaining concerts I have attended in a while.
Matthew Morrison is most known for his role as “Will Schuester” on the hit TV showGlee, as well as his many performances on Broadway, including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza. Laura Benanti was recently seen on television as “Elsa” in the NBC live telecast of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, and is a Tony Award-winner for her role as “Louise” in Gypsy on Broadway. As their many credits might suggest, both are consummate performers. Their screen and stage credits alone however do not reflect just how charismatic and energetic they are in front of a crowd—with their easy humor and lively dancing they had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.
Under the consummate direction of Steven Reineke, the National Symphony Orchestra was fantastic backing up the singers as well as performing in their own right. They opened the concert with a bouncy arrangement of “New York, New York,” starting the concert with an energy that continued throughout the night.
The songs were chosen mostly from Broadway and the American Songbook, though with updated arrangements to fight the contemporary styles of Morrison and Benanti. They were clearly very comfortable with the song choices, and able to perform them with ease and mastery. Morrison has a jazzy sensibility that is perfectly suited to the lounge songs such as “The Lady is a Tramp”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”, and his smooth tenor voice more than did them justice. Benanti showed her capability with big Broadway numbers, singing the standards such as “The Sound of Music” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” with her creamy, golden soprano.
The best part of the night however was not one particular song or moment, but rather was Morrison’s dancing in every number! This self-proclaimed “song and dance man” was exactly that, as he danced all around the stage during his numbers, soft-shoeing, dancing with the microphone stand, taking over the conductor’s baton to conduct the orchestra, dancing with his fedora, and even dancing with an umbrella during his fantastic performance of “Singin’ in the Rain.” His humor was infectious and had me completely enthralled.
Other highlights were the duets between Morrison and Benanti. They sang a lovely, intimate duet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” during which Morrison also showed off his ukulele skills as their voices blended and complemented each other wonderfully. Their best duet though was their encore: a symphonic arrangement of Pharrell’s “Happy.” They had the audience on their feet, clapping along and laughing and wishing that the concert wasn’t over already.
While there were occasional sound issues (the orchestra at times overpowered Morrison, and there was a startlingly loud “blat” during one of the numbers), the stalwart souls who braved the rainstorm and the DC traffic to get out to Wolf Trap were well rewarded with an evening of fun, entertainment, and good song.
Running Time: 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Several times during the opening night performance of Broadway vet Matthew Morrison‘s solo concert—accompanied by the massive orchestral sounds of Orange County’s critically-acclaimed Pacific Symphony—the popular Gleeheartthrob referred to the jazzy evening as a sort of “homecoming.”
It’s quite a sweet, reverent sentiment coming from the OC native, and understandably so considering he spent his teen years honing his musical theater skills here locally at the Orange County High School of the Arts before moving on to become a Tony-nominated Broadway star and, later, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated TV fixture.
He truly is an embodiment of a “local-boy-done-good,” and with that in full display, the charming Morrison played for the “home town crowd” beaming with confidence and undeniable showmanship throughout the evening. And in return, he received loud, well-earned cheers from the enthusiastic audience.
Dubbed “Valentine’s Day with Matthew Morrison,” the three-night engagement of Morrison’s entertaining, high-energy take on swinging, big-band jazz standards and classic Broadway showtunes continues through Saturday, February 15 at the Renée and Henry SegerstromConcert Hall in Costa Mesa.
But right before Morrison graced the audience with his hour-plus set, the Pacific Symphony—under the direction of Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman—performed their own brief, yet still rousing program of, what else, romantic songs that included beautiful arrangements of “Samson & Delilah,” “All The Things You Are,” “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and Alan Silvestri’s score for the Father of the Brideremake. In between, Kaufman made brief introductions and asides that were delightfully amusing.
Then after a brief intermission, Morrison—who first humorously introduced himself with heightened but self-effacing superlatives—finally emerged to thunderous applause from the near-capacity crowd. There’s little doubt that many of the patrons in the audience were comprised of so-called Gleeks, of course, because there certainly was a higher decibel than usual to those screeches for a Pops Symphony concert.
And thankfully—for Gleeks or otherwise—Morrison did not disappoint.
Dressed in a custom-fitted tuxedo like a new-school Rat-Pack member, TV’s Mr. Schuester has ditched the sweater vests and transformed himself into a cool, fedora-topped 21st Century song-and-dance man. It’s a guise that truly works for him, and he absolutely proves it with the songs and arrangements in this concert set, many of which can be found on his most recent album Where It All Began, itself a collection of timeless jazz standards released last year onAdam Levine‘s label 222 Records.
Much of the music in the concert and on the album originated on the Broadway stage, which, naturally, is an obvious homage to his lauded pre-Glee roots (for the few who didn’t know, before taking on his role in Ryan Murphy‘s hit FOXTV series, Morrison made his Broadway debut in the stage adaptation of FOOTLOOSE which later led to his breakout roles in the original casts of HAIRSPRAY and THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and, eventually, the critically-acclaimed revival of SOUTH PACIFIC).
Hearing Morrison singing these songs live backed by the full orchestral might of the Pacific Symphony was an awesome treat to say the least. And aside from the Pacific Symphony, he was also joined onstage by a fellow Gleepersonality—Brad Ellis, the non-speaking piano man in the McKinley High choir room. Ellis served both as this concert’s principal piano accompanist and its musical director.
Morrison kicked things off with the high-swinging “It Don’t Mean A Thing”—complete with a cute choreographed pas de deux with a coat rack. Yes, folks, not only does the guy sing the Great American Songbook, he also dances to it (unlike his peers who’ve made a mint revisiting these standards for albums and concerts but basically just park themselves in front of a mic). It’s quite a shrewd and smart way to distinguish his act from the rest—adding the element of dance and theatricality to an otherwise normal jazz concert.
Well, he certainly has the résumé to back it up.
He followed it up with a rhythmically-altered (and, ultimately, slightly cheesy) “Luck Be A Lady” from GUYS & DOLLS punctuated with Timberlake-lite gyrations in conjunction with its seductive beat (it was, for me at least, the lone, very minor hiccup in an otherwise solid concert presentation).
And in between songs, Morrison provided amusing anecdotes and reminisced often about his past, including his first experiences performing both at OCHSA and at the Buena Park Youth Theatre (the overhead jumbo screen provided visual evidence via old photos from his past as well). As it turns out, his original plans of becoming a soccer player was squelched after being sidelined by an injury, causing him to discover the realm of theater arts—which, of course, the world now appreciates.
“I was a jock,” Morrison joked. “But my sports were ballet, tap, jazz…”
Effortlessly switching gears from up-tempo jazz to quieter, more melancholy torch songs, Morrison’s engaging show provided the audience plenty of reasons to cheer. Along with rousing, big-band renditions of “Sway,” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” (which he nonchalantly restarted when he flubbed a few lyrics), and a rather mood-swinging rollercoaster of a medley featuring songs from WEST SIDE STORY (which he happily recalled as the “butchest show” he was ever weened on), he also gave the audience a terrific blues-y “Come Rain Or Come Shine” mashed with “Basin Street Blues” that I absolutely loved, and a smokin’ hot “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”
But by far my favorites of the night were his quieter, gentler songs that tugged at the heartstrings. His exquisite, strings-enhanced rendition of Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns” was just marvelous (he seemed even endearingly surprised when he got teary-eyed afterwards). And perhaps, arguably, his best musical moment of the concert came during a beautiful triptych of songs that recalled his first auditions in New York for actual paid work in the theater. Starting with a samba-fied “Hey There,” followed by a jazz-swinging “On The Street Where You Live,” Morrison then transitioned to a lovely “As Long As She Needs Me” that had me whispering under my breath… “wow.”
Later, he even teased the audience with the possibility of recreating his shirtless performance of the ultra-romantic “Younger Than Springtime” (from his stint in the Lincoln Center revival of SOUTH PACIFIC). Alas, he only undid his bow tie to the disappointment of many females in the audience (and, yeah—let’s get real here—even a few of the men), claiming he can only ever sing the song shirtless if he’s at the Lincoln Center.
His final song was an appealing “Singing in the Rain” punctuated by an umbrella dance interlude (sadly, it wasn’t the mashup with Rhianna’s “Umbrella” that they did on Glee, but it was still lovely), followed by an adorable encore of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow.” As a fitting end note to the “homecoming” concert, Morrison—with ukelele in hand—surprised the audience by inviting a lucky high school student from his alma mater to duet with him on the song, reminding the young theater kids in attendance to keep dreaming—just as he did when he attended school here.