Monday, November 3, 2014

Arts Insider: Matthew Morrison's Winning Streak

“After Glee completes its sixth and final season in January, I’m moving right back to New York because I can’t wait to get back on the Broadway stage where I can tell a story from beginning to end, uninterrupted. I’ve been living in the land of someone yelling ‘Cut!’ since 2009, and I was built for everything about the world of theater…from the applause, to performing the heart-wrenching songs and getting the audiences’ reactions.” —singer/actor/dancer Matthew Morrison

By Gioia Patton

If I were writing actor/singer/dancer Matthew Morrison’s biography at this time of his life, I might use Born Under a Lucky Star as the working title. Why choose something that sounds like the title of a Disney film? Because after having studied Morrison’s official website in preparation for his Today’s Woman interview, the bullet points about his 36-year-old life (which includes having originated the role of Link Larkin in the Broadway version of the musical Hairspray) made me think, ‘With the exception of his short-lived experience in a boy band, his steady climb up the ladder of success reads like fiction.’

And speaking of ‘reads like fiction,’ after looking at some additional websites about this triple threat a few days after my phone interview with the exceedingly nice star, who plays the beloved Spanish teacher and glee club director Will Shuester on Fox network’s hit drama/comedy television series Glee, I found that my ‘Lucky Star’ tagline covers as far back as Morrison’s high school years as the Orange County, Calif., native was not only his senior class president, but also prom king.

The following Q & A is an excerpt from my 30-minute phone interview with the Emmy, Tony, Drama Desk and Golden Globe-nominated Morrison, who will be performing selections from his latest album, Where It All Began, as the Louisville Orchestra’s Pops Series guest artist this month. Many of the collections of American standards on the album (i.e., The Lady Is a Tramp, Send in the Clowns, Hey There, Luck Be a Lady) were first made famous in Broadway musicals.

Todays Woman: Let’s begin with the one obvious disappointing and uncomfortable spell that was mentioned on your résumé, which was your short-lived time in 2001 as a member of the quartet boy band LMNT.
Matthew Morrison: (Groans) It was the worst year of my life. Actually there were some very talented singers, but you know when as a performer it doesn’t feel good, but feels rather cheap and a little disgusting — you know when you get that feeling that you’re doing the wrong thing. That is kind of my summation of that whole experience. It just didn’t feel authentic. It just wasn’t me. (Laughs) I’ll just say I was selling out.

TW: You became known to audiences of Broadway musicals while you were in your 20s, thanks to lead or supporting roles in Footloose, Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, playing Lieutenant Cable in Lincoln Center’s Tony-nominated production of South Pacific, and The Light in The Piazza,  earning a Tony nomination for playing the young lover Fabrizio Naccarelli. However, you were unknown to the majority of Americans until you were 30 when the pilot episode of Glee aired in the spring of 2009. Looking back on what you were like in your 20s, is it better that national fame came calling when it did?
MM: YES! I can’t imagine having been only 21 or 22. It’s interesting because there were so many people on Glee who were that age, so I got to see their experiences (with fame) as opposed to my experiences with it. When I was living in New York during my 20s, I was hitting the bars and just having a good old time (laughs). And you know, when I think of what it’s like in this day and age that we live in with so many paparazzi and people out there with their iPhone, taking pictures of celebrities doing stupid stuff…(sighs) I love that I got to do my 20s with a little bit of anonymity. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I am very settled now in my life than I was when I started the show in 2009. I’m such a homebody now.

TW: What remarks do you hear most often from fans? Is it that they wish they had a teacher like Mr. Shue to go to for advice?
MM:
Yeah. He’s someone who has touched a lot of people in such a positive way. He’s that kind of teacher we always wished we’d had. And fortunately enough, I did model him after Phil Doran, my English teacher in high school. He was this guy who, although I don’t remember him teaching me where to put a comma, his infectious energy that he brought to that classroom every day… it made you want to come to class and made you want to learn and to pay attention. He made it so much fun to be in that classroom.

TW: Years from now, what do you think will be Glee’s place in television history?
MM:
At its height and what it brought to the world, I don’t think there will ever be anything quite like it. I think it changed television history forever. Glee set such a precedent and I think will always be remembered as such an amazing and positive thing. I think it really affected people’s lives because we were not afraid to tackle some serious issues such as being gay, bullied, or pregnant in high school. We didn’t tiptoe around those issues, but rather hit them head-on.

TW: Talk about what it means to you to do concert performances with an orchestra.
MM:
Like you, I love seeing that look on young people’s faces when they’re having a joyous musical experience for the first time. And I feel like I’ve been able to do that with the performances I’ve been doing with orchestras, because orchestras are, — I hate to say it — like the ballet or the opera, a little bit of a dying breed. There’s more of an older crowd who goes. So when there’s an acting person from Glee, a show that the kids love to watch, I feel it gives parents a chance to bring their kids to see an orchestra. And hopefully, once they see that and they see the connectivity that is in that room — with the audience, with myself, with the orchestra — I mean, ‘connectivity’ is the best word that I can use off the top of my head to describe it. There is such a connectivity — a presence that an orchestra has on stage. Just the synchronicity of it all. But also, the standout solos that a lot of these amazing musicians have is just incredible when you put it all together.

TW: During my February 2014 interview with the Tony Award-winning singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth (who plays the recurring character April Rhodes on Glee), she stressed how grateful she was that she’d earned her master’s degree in opera performance before moving to New York City to pursue a career on the Broadway stage. What was your initial exposure to classes in the performing arts?
MM:
I was lucky enough to find my passion at a very young age. I started acting and singing when I was in the fifth grade, having stumbled upon it. I absolutely loved it. I did a lot of children’s theater and really started getting trained when I went to high school attending a performing arts high school in Orange County, Calif. It was a regular high school from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. every day, and from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. I would be in acting, dance or voice classes. It was invaluable to be able to hone one’s skills from such an early age to the point that when I began my studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, I felt like I was a little ahead of the game. And even though there was a strict no-audition policy, I felt that I was ready, and after my second audition, I landed my first Broadway show (the musical Footloose), leaving school after two years. (Pauses) But I still take vocal and acting classes. That discipline doesn’t stop, because there will always be someone who’s hungrier than you and wants it more. So, you kind of have to always be on your game!

When: November 15 @ 8pm
Where: Kentucky Center
Tickets: start @ $26
Contact: kentuckycenter.org, the box office walk up or drive thru, or call 502.584.7777

Gioia Patton is an arts & entertainment celebrity profiler and in-concert photographer.

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