Ditching the Sweater Vest and Dancing on Tables, Matthew Morrison Readies to Get Up Close and Personal at 54 Below
By Carey Purcell
Diners at 54 Below, beware. Mr. Schuester is leaving his sweater vest at home. Guests at the nightclub might find Matthew Morrison breaking into song and dance closer to them than they expected.
The Broadway leading man, who is currently starring on the hit TV show "Glee," will take the stage at 54 Below for a solo concert titled Up Close and Personal June 1-4. The concert will include songs from Morrison's upcoming album "Where It All Began," which will be released June 4. And, while the evening features songs performed by the Tony and Drama Desk-nominated actor, it just might feature dance as well.
Morrison, who made his Broadway debut in Footloose, has performed in Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Light in the Piazza, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way and South Pacific. In 2009 he was cast as optimistic show choir teacher Will Schuester on Ryan Murphy's TV show "Glee," which has earned him Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations.
The show, which was just extended for two more seasons, has brought Morrison international fame, a new aspect of his life he takes seriously.
"Before 'Glee,' I felt like a lot of people in New York knew who I was, but I could kind of go wherever I wanted and no one knew who this guy was," he said. "Now things have changed a little bit, and with this change comes good responsibility, too."
Part of that responsibility in Morrison's eyes is exposing new generations to the kind of music they might not be exposed to otherwise. Morrison, currently on break from filming "Glee," is taking the stage in numerous cities to return to where he says his heart is — live performing.
"I can't wait," Morrison said about his concert. "This is something I've been looking forward to doing for a while, and the kind of music I've been singing all my life, with a nice quintet in a really cool space."
While Morrison has an idea of the songs his show will feature, he said, "I really want to keep it old school, like they did back in the day, where I don't know what song is next. Wherever the mood takes us, we'll play off the audience and see whatever song we want to play."
One performer from that old-school era Morrison admires is Gene Kelly, whom he credits with inspiring him to learn dance.
"I was so blown away by what this man did, and how he did it," Morrison said. "He made dance cool for me. He made it masculine and made me want to dance."
Some of the tracks on "Where It All Began" are well-known classics like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Luck Be a Lady" that Morrison hopes he can add his own feel to, despite the famous renditions performed by previous singers.
"Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. — they're so incredible," he said. "These are such classic songs and they were sung by the most classic vocalists of their times. I'm trying to put my own tapestry over these classic songs."
This tapestry includes a more uplifting spirit and more movement integrated into the songs, some of which are typically sung as ballads. By adding his own touch, Morrison hopes he will introduce a new generation of people to the kind of music he is performing.
Morrison has already released one single from the album, "It Don't Mean a Thing," which includes him scatting. To prepare for recording the song, he watched numerous videos of Ella Fitzgerald so he could learn to scat properly.
"That one took a little work," he said. "That's not natural for me. She does it so effortlessly. When it comes out of my mouth, it's not quite that effortless."
The effort Morrison put into recording his album and performing his concerts comes from his love for live performing, which he tries to do as much has he can during his breaks from filming "Glee."
"After all the stuff that I've done over my career and now being on a TV show for so long, I definitely have come to realize that theatre is where my heart is," he said. "It's where I love to be the most. I love that interaction with the live audience, and I miss it so much. I'm dying to get back onstage. We have small breaks from the show, and I'm trying to fill that time being onstage, doing this kind of music."
One of the stage roles Morrison said he would love to play is John Wilkes Booth in the Sondheim musical Assassins. When commenting on the darker aspect of the role, he laughed and said, "I know. I love it."
Having already sung onstage in Italian for The Light in the Piazza, Morrison said he would take the chance of singing in another language again, saying, "Let's get some German, some French — I'll sing in any language."
When he takes the stage at 54 Below, Morrison will not be wearing Mr. Schuester's trademark sweater vest; instead, he said he will wear vintage-inspired clothing that evokes the era of the music he will be singing. And, he won't be acting like Mr. Schuester either; despite the stage at 54 Below being smaller than the average Broadway stage, Morrison said he might dance.
"Honestly, I will dance anywhere," he said. "I might dance on some tables. We'll see what happens."
PHOTO ARCHIVE: Matthew Morrison on Broadway
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