Matthew Morrison Goes Back to "Where It All Began" at 54 Below
By Carey Purcell
Broadway and television star Matthew Morrison recently made his debut at 54 Below, celebrating the release of his new album, "Where It All Began." Playbill.com attended his June 4 concert.
Walking down the stairs into the swanky nightclub 54 Below provides a journey back in time for guests, and Morrison's concert only enhanced that feeling. The Brad Ellis Big Band and Morrison's vintage-era outfit, complete with a three-piece suit and fedora, combined with the old-fashioned atmosphere of the nightclub itself, gave audience members a nostalgic, jazzy feeling that only grew as the evening proceeded.
Morrison opened the concert with a jazzy rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," scatting his way through much of the song. He then introduced himself to the audience, quickly establishing the difference between his real life and the character he plays on the TV show "Glee."
"I'm not a high school teacher in real life," he joked. "I don't hang out at high schools. I hang out at classy places like this — where people drink to forget about high school."
Any lingering memories of gym class or algebra were soon forgotten, as Morrison sang his way through the track listings on his new album, "Where It All Began," a collection of classic songs he said he grew up loving and hopes to introduce to a new audience of younger fans.
Morrison has found international fame with "Glee," where he plays show choir teacher Will Schuester, but many fans know him from his years on the Broadway stage, where he has performed in Footloose, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific.
Playbill.com interviewed Morrison before his concert, and he said he identifies himself as a dancer as well as an actor and singer, speculating that he might dance on the tables at 54 Below. Proving true to his word, he danced as much as he could on the relatively small stage. The songs were well-suited for dancing, including a jazzy rendition of "Luck Be a Lady" and "The Lady is a Tramp," which featured some newly revised lyrics including, "She refuses to believe Scott Wittman is a friend of mine." An up-tempo rendition of "On the Street Where You Live" was also a crowd pleaser.
Morrison also chatted with the audience, sharing some of his history and asking if there were any Light in the Piazza fans in the house. The question was met with some loud shouts, which he looked surprised to hear. Another Broadway show he mentioned was West Side Story, which he performed a medley of songs from, accompanied only by a set of drums.
Along with the upbeat and jazzy songs Morrison said he loves, he sang some wistful love songs, including a haunting rendition of "As Long as She Needs Me." Morrison remarked that the song is usually sung by a woman about a man, but, he asked, "Who says men can't feel the same passion and despair that women can?" Another slower-paced song Morrison offered was Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns."
The audience cheered up a great deal when, introducing the song "Younger Than Springtime," Morrison reminisced about singing the song shirtless onstage at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Turning his back to the audience, he began to unbutton his vest, saying he would do the same here. Despite the cheers from the audience, he apologized, saying, "Sorry, but I only take my clothes off at Lincoln Center."
Morrison fulfilled his promise of dancing on tables during his closing number, "Singing in the Rain." The diners in the front of the restaurant were eager to oblige and cleared their plates and glasses away, giving Morrison the space to tap a step or two and, breaking from his vintage-inspired theme for a moment, even do the robot. But he stepped back onstage and back into the 1950's to perform his encore, a swinging rendition of Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me."
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