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.