MORTON GOES ON THE RECORD
Euan Morton was so incredibly charismatic and convincing as the Culture Club pop star in Taboo that he made everyone, including George O'Dowd, think: "Boy George, he's got it!" After receiving a Tony nomination and a Theatre World Award, this great Scot proved that he's a "karma chameleon" who can display many more colors than "red, gold and green." In Caligula: An Ancient Glam Epic at the N.Y. Musical Theatre Festival, the 5-foot-8 actor played the rampaging Roman emperor and fearlessly bared his soul and his privates in a nude scene. Morton, who's refreshingly frank and funny, says, "I'm not proud of my willie, but I'm really proud of the play. I'm disappointed it's gone down the toilet, but maybe I'll make millions and produce it someday."
Currently, Morton is having a jolly time as Molly Tawdry, a transvestite prostitute in David Grimm's racy Restoration romp Measure for Pleasure, opening March 8 at the Public. Grimm raves, "Euan is a playwright's dream. His range and talent are fantastic." Plus, Morton, 28, will reprise his role as a sinister organ grinder in Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak's Brundibar, which plays April 26-May 21 at the New Victory.
But what thrills him the most is the release of his debut solo CD, "NewClear," on March 21. A stellar showcase of his soaring vocals and versatility, it boasts covers of Boy George, as well as arresting new originals by Mark Underwood and David Nehls. He'll kick it off with concerts on March 20 and April 3 at Joe's Pub.
Question: Congrats on your debut CD! How'd you pick these songs?
Euan Morton: These songs picked me. Ten years ago, Mark Underwood played me "NewClear" and I loved it. For me, this album's about your environment and how it affects your place in this world and how it affects who we love and who loves us back. "NewClear" is the best thing I've ever done. The guy who mastered this used to master for Bob Dylan. A lot of my fans love Broadway, but I didn't want to make a musical theatre album. And there's no point in making a punk album that my fan base isn't gonna buy, so I made a vocalist album that shows I can do other things. When Madonna saw me in Taboo, she loved the makeup song ["Pretty Lies"] and said I should've done a whole album of that. But if I had rushed into making a CD then, it would've been someone else's album, not mine. Whereas I chose these songs. I chose the artwork. I found the money. I worked my ass off, and I'm very happy with it.
Q: You've included two Boy George tunes; why these two?
Morton: I picked "Pie in the Sky" because I've always loved it, and it was cut from the Broadway production of Taboo. It's a great radio song. And "Victims" was Rosie O'Donnell and Kelly Carpenter's idea. I'd love to send my CD to Boy George. I played him for four years and owe him a great debt of gratitude. I'm proud of Taboo, but it's also something I've happily moved on from. Q: You've also covered Leonard Cohen's gorgeous "Hallelujah."
Morton: Jeff Buckley's version is definitive, and 25 million people have covered it, but I love it. David Nehls arranged it. God, it's a heartbreaking song about the world we live in. It's probably the cut I'm proudest of, along with "NewClear" and "As It Began." But my next album will be entirely written by me and Mark [Underwood]. He's brilliant and keeps me on the musical path I want to be on.
Q: Who are some of your songwriting heroes?
Morton: Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, the Carpenters. I'm going on Rosie's gay cruise, and one night I'm doing "The Karen Carpenter Songbook." Karen was my singing teacher. When I was six, my mother would play the vinyl records, and Karen was the first person I fell in love with, and it was just through her voice. When I'm depressed, I'll listen to her sing "I Need to Be in Love" or "Love Me for What I Am." She takes a song and breaks her heart with it, and therefore ours.
Q: Congrats, too, on your bravura Broadway concert last fall at Town Hall. Before you sang "As Long as He Needs Me," you said: "When I was a kid, I'd sing this in the shower, but never in public. I thought it was a bit fruity. But now that I'm grown up and comfortable with who I am, I can sing this song."
Morton: I lived in a small town in Scotland, and if you wanted to be a singer or an actor, you were pretty much a "faggot." I put up with that my entire life until I was 15. Then I moved to London and found a drama school where people didn't look at me and think I was weird. But I sing all kinds of songs in the shower: Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton. To me, there's no such thing as gender, as gay or straight. We are so intent on labeling each other, and we need to look at ourselves as human beings. I loved singing "As Long as He Needs Me." It means so much when it's sung by a woman, and even more when it's sung by a man. I want to break down those barriers. What a person puts out into the world is not their sexuality; it's their personality.
Q: Speaking of sexuality, talk about Measure for Pleasure. Set in 1751, it's a farce of mistaken identities, duels and double-dealings. And it's got such an astonishing cast with Michael Stuhlbarg and Suzanne Bertish.
Morton: Restoration comedy isn't done much, and it's rare to have a modern version of one. The language is beautiful, and David [Grimm] is very funny. He loves the crack jokes [about people's rear ends], and we don't mean Whitney Houston. It's really good fun. In the first half, I play a transvestite prostitute. In my first scene, I'm committing acts of fellatio. And I spend most of Act II dressed as an old man. To be honest, I did worry. Is it wise to go back to New York and be in a dress again? I turned down this job five times. Then I realized I was doing what I said I'd never do: labeling what it was to wear a dress. This play and this character are completely different from Taboo and Boy George. No one ever loved Valentine for who he was, so he became another person [Molly]. I could connect with that. There are times when I've felt no one is ever gonna love me. When I put aside all the crap about being typecast, I read the play and I cried at the end. This cast is all brilliant and clinically insane. It's like watching "The Simpsons" in reverse. I'm really glad I did this.
Q: Before Taboo, did you ever do any drag?
Morton: Once, when I was 13. My mom made me dress up as Dame Edna Everage for Halloween. And I got the s*** beat out of me.
Q: Besides playing in Measure for Pleasure at the Public, you're launching your "NewClear" CD next door at Joe's Pub.
Morton:Yeah, it's become my second home. This [album] was about taking control of my life. There are people who don't go to plays or movies, but there's no one who doesn't have a favorite song. Everyone has a soundtrack to his life. And I want people to hear mine. And maybe I'll even get to be part of theirs.
For more information, visit www.euanmorton.com.
TONY WINNER IS THRILLED TO WORK FOR CASH
Jarrod Emick really lights up the stage in Ring of Fire, the new Johnny Cash musical opening March 12 at the Barrymore. Whether he's striking up sparks with Beth Malone on the show's title tune, smoldering through "Folsom Prison Blues" or blazing away on his guitar in "I've Been Everywhere," Emick "burns, burns, burns" with admiration for the Man in Black. The striking 6-foot actor from Fort Eustis, VA, says, "It's an honor to perform his tunes. The only music my father had was Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, and I saw Cash's silver jubilee concert in 1981 in Rapid City. I was nine. My mother bought me tickets for my birthday, and I thought he was a god."
As conceived and directed by Richard Maltby Jr., Ring of Fire offers a Cash crop of country hits, including "A Boy Named Sue," but it's not a book or bio musical about his life. Emick, 36, says, "We don't have a story. It's a show about an Everyman who looks back and searches for his soul. No one's imitating Cash. He had a very distinctive style and sound, and I think it's very easy to get caught up in that, and not hear the complexity of his music and words. In some of the songs, I defy Sondheim to come up with better lyrics. You can't get much clearer than John R. Cash."
Ring of Fire also reveals Cash's lighter, brighter side with novelty tunes like "Flushed [From the Bathroom of My Heart]." Emick says, "Cash was known for being very dark, but he was a f****** standup comedian. He was wild. Kris Kristofferson says, ‘I don't know why Johnny Cash wrote ‘I Walk the Line.' He ain't never walked any line in his life." (Speaking of bathroom humor, Cash's family once turned down a producer who wanted to use "Ring of Fire" for a hemorrhoids commercial.)
Last July, Emick took on another American icon who battled with the bottle: He played "The Great Gatsby" novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, opposite Lauren Kennedy as Zelda, his Jazz Age wife, in Waiting for the Moon, a new musical by Jack Murphy and Frank Wildhorn, at the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center in Marlton, N.J. "Scott and Zelda were crazy talented, crazy in love and crazy alcoholics. And I love Lauren to death. Frank's music was fantastic, very razzmatazz. I told him he should pen this [score] under another name; now he'll have to battle the critics again. I really enjoy singing his things. He's like Mozart; he's loaded with tunes.
Though Ring of Fire marks his Broadway return, this Tony winner was once announced to star as another guitar-strumming hero in the Elvis musical All Shook Up. "It was a contract thing. I definitely wanted to do it, but not for this [favored nations] amount. I wasn't asking for Hugh [Jackman] dollars. It's okay. Cheyenne Jackson's a great guy. That's how things go. I've been on both sides. The only person I owe one to is [director] Chris Ashley. I think the world of him. I did the workshops and was supposed to go to Goodspeed, but I was doing The Boy From Oz. Everyone involved with All Shook Up was just the nicest."
But when it comes to nice guys, it'd be hard to beat his awesome Aussie co-star of The Boy From Oz, says Emick, who played his lover, Greg Connell. "Hugh Jackman's the best. He set the bar for everyone else. I trusted him wholeheartedly, and he felt the same about me. There were days when I didn't want to do the show, and anyone can say that. But not Hugh. There wasn't a goddamn day when he wasn't the happiest man in the world doing The Boy From Oz. He'd make you sick. And he's so generous. At the end of the run, he gave everyone mini-iPods."
For more information, visit www.ringoffirethemusical.com.
ALL IS COLM, ALL IS BRIGHT
When Colm T. Reilly is singing, his Irish eyes are smiling, and so are his audience's. Beaming with boyish charm, the 5-foot-8 tenor is bringing back his acclaimed cabaret act, "Bein' Green: A Collection of Irish Songs," on March 9-11 and 16-18 to the Hideaway Room at Helen's. Reilly, who's also the Chelsea club's general manager and booker, can rattle off the names of all 107 of his relatives from the Emerald Isle to the tune of "The Irish Washerwoman." He can belt D. Jay Bradley's joyful jazz-waltz arrangement of "In Dublin's Fair City" and lead a spirited singalong of "The Wild Rover." Reilly, 33, says, "I love this show because these are the songs I grew up with. It's my life." Cabaret legend Julie Wilson says, "Colm's enormously talented. I've seen his Irish show, and I've never heard a better ‘Danny Boy' in my life."
As a kid in Manhattan, Reilly says his parents recognized his love of music, but "unfortunately" they sent him to organ lessons, instead of piano lessons. He jokes, "When I was eight, I liked to play with my organ." He also was "a mama's boy" who always knew he was gay: "I had a crush on Mowgli in the movie ‘The Jungle Book.' I wanted to see what was underneath his leaf." But at 14, tragedy struck. "Mom was in a taxi and got hit by a drunk driver. It was right after I did my first play, Pippin. Maybe it's sappy, but I've always believed I was led to theatre before she died, so I'd have something to help me survive that. I think God meant for it to happen that way."
In time, Reilly went to Straw Hat theatre auditions and got jobs that paid $200 a week in "podunk choruses" around the country. He toured 25 states ("I did Forever Plaid everywhere"), working with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, the Southeastern Theatre Conference and the United Professional Theatre Auditions. While touring in A Christmas Carol, he met his future partner, Shane Mathews, in a club in Columbia, MO. Mathews, 35, a deejay from Indianapolis, recalls, "Colm was at the pool table, and it was love at first sight. I had a mad crush on him." Reilly says, "Shane was really cute, and he started following me around. And when I was in Alaska, he sent me flowers. It was really cool, and this December, we'll celebrate our 10th anniversary."
But first, they've got another date to celebrate: April 2, the second anniversary of Helen's, which Reilly lovingly named after his mother. His father, Patrick, who runs the Molly Wee, the Old Castle and other Irish pubs, is the owner. "I'm so lucky. My dad's been so supportive of us, and he treats Shane like gold." And Mathews is Helen's manager and Bistro Award-winning technical director. Reilly adds, "Shane's terrific with lights and sound. He's in touch with the emotions of each song."
Helen's opening headliner was Wilson, who says, "Colm and Shane have a great thing going, and they make everybody feel welcome and happy." This restaurant/piano bar also has been home to Heather MacRae, Baby Jane Dexter and Jeanne MacDonald. Reilly, who's co-vice president of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs, says: "Shane and I dreamed so many times about opening our own place. I grew up in my father's bar business and was always drawn to theatre and music, so I never expected that something like cabaret could marry these two things so perfectly. When I got a job at Judy's Chelsea, that was great; I worked there for four years. But cabaret isn't easy. We've had times when we thought: ‘That's it. We're closing.' And then there are nights like Julie Wilson's 81st birthday, where it's just magic. It was electrifying. It's not just the show. It's the atmosphere, the food, the people. That's why we're here."
For more information, visit www.helensnyc.com. WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There's so much to see in New York: Whenever Tim Di Pasqua croons his tunes, it's music to our ears. Stephen Schwartz calls him "one of the freshest and most melodic" songwriters in town, so catch him on March 18 at 7 PM at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. (212-255-5438). Sample his sound clips at www.timdipasqua.com. … Platinum-selling composer-pianist Jim Brickman headlines March 20-21 at 7 PM at Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. (212-581-3080). Best-known for romantic hits like "Valentine," the Grammy nominee is a sweetheart of a performer. … TheaterMania critics Scott and Barbara Siegel love cabaret, but their undying support won't be going unsung. They will be saluted in "Roasts, Toasts & Tributes" on March 26 at 8 PM at the St. Clement's Theater, 423 W. 46th St. (212-868-4444). It's produced and hosted by Carolyn Montgomery, and singing their praises will be Nancy Anderson, Marnie Baumer, Scott Coulter, Milla Ilaeva, Julie Reyburn, Jay Rogers and Lennie Watts.
Got comments or questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next month, let's hear it for the "boys"!
Wayman Wong edits entertainment for The New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theatre critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.