Broadway, film and ‘Glee’ television show star Matthew Morrison comes to Vilar
If you go …
What: Matthew Morrison.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
Cost: Tickets start at $65 for adults, $25 for students.
More information: Tickets are available now at the VPAC box office, by calling 970-845-8497 or at www.vilarpac.org.
BEAVER CREEK — If Matthew Morrison’s star hadn’t propelled him to New York and Broadway, then his life might have more closely paralleled that of Will Schuester, his character on the television series “Glee.”
“Honestly, I look at that show and if I had not gone to New York and had the success I had early on, I think I would have been back at the high school I went to as an educator,” Morrison said. “I think I would have been a teacher, so I really went into that show, in my mind, where my life would have been if I hadn’t had success as an actor.”
Fortunately, success has been a consistent part of Morrison’s life, from that first moment in the Broadway spotlight to film, television and a recording career.
Back in the day
Morrison found his passion at a young age when his parents shipped him from his home in Southern California to Arizona to stay with relatives.
“I don’t think they really wanted to deal with us for that summer, so they threw me and my cousin into a theater production,” he said. “I was 10 years old, and it just blew me away. I was like, wow, this I what I want to do. I’m an only child, and I was always creating worlds and stuff in my head and I never really had an outlet. That was the perfect place for me.”
He announced his career intentions to his parents, and they signed him up for children’s theater, where he met kids who were attending the Orange County School of the Arts. He successfully auditioned for the school, beginning a trajectory that would eventually take him to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“I knew I wanted to go to New York and my dream was to be on Broadway,” he said. “I got my first Broadway show at 19 years old, and I never looked back after that.”
He spent a solid decade on Broadway, traversing from a breakout performance originating the part of Link Larkin in the hit “Hairspray” at the age of 23 to learning how to sing opera and memorizing lines in Italian to play Fabrizio Naccarelli in “The Light in the Piazza.”
He was in the midst of performances for “South Pacific” when he submitted a taped audition for a proposed new television show. The show’s producers loved the tape and came out to New York to see Morrison in person.
“I had two weeks in between when I sent the tape in and when they were coming to New York, and I learned ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ on my ukulele,” he said. “I thought that would be an instrument a teacher would use to inspire the kids.”
Morrison’s one man ukulele band helped secure him the post of teacher and show choir director Will Schuester on the Fox series “Glee.” The show followed the ups and downs of a misfit high school glee club, combining elaborate song and dance numbers with messages about embracing differences and thriving in the face of adversity.
“I could have been a cop or lawyer or a doctor on some television show, but to be part of a show that had a message and stood for something — I picture a family watching an episode of ‘Glee,’ turning off the TV and having a great conversation about what they just saw because it was so relevant and so timely,” he said.
“I still get stopped all the time from people who say that it changed their lives personally. It’s amazing, as an actor, to have that kind of impact on people’s everyday lives.”
Pounding out episodes week after week was intense, and Morrison said the cast put a lot of blood, sweat and tears — or at least a lot of sweat — into the show.
“That show was absolutely bananas to try to film. If you weren’t filming a scene or a number or something, you were either in rehearsals for dancing or in the recording studio laying down vocals,” he said. “There were so many hats, I don’t know how the people scheduled that thing. We didn’t really get much sleep.
“We worked about 16 hours a day, that was the average day for us, but it really prepared me for anything. It feels like I’ve done the hardest television show I’ll ever do, I don’t think anything will get more difficult than that. … It was all worth it in the end. I really did enjoy that experience and it did a lot for my career. I’ll always be thankful for that show.”
Back to Broadway
Around Season 2 of “Glee,” Morrison realized that after the show was done, he wanted to return to his first love, his passion: the stage. As the final episodes of “Glee” were winding down, he got a call from Harvey Weinstein who told him about a new project he really wanted Morrison to do: “Finding Neverland.”
“I did a workshop of it during one of the hiatuses for ‘Glee,’ and I fell in love with the project,” Morrison said. “Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan; this is the story behind the story, how the author J.M. Barrie came up with one of the most beloved stories of all time.
“I fell in love with the music. It was a beautiful tale of this guy, and it really instilled that message of playing and being open and childlike and never letting that child inside of you die. It really reminded me that I needed to do that in my own life, so I learned a lot from that show, actually.”
Broadway is “a young man’s game,” Morrison said, and it was tough leaving a television show and going back to a theater schedule at the age of 36. Playing a character that really never left the stage during the two-plus hour show was a difficult task, but worth it.
“I just missed that live interaction with the audience, that’s always what I crave,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I’m doing these shows. I love being on stage and having that interaction with the audience.
“Going back to Broadway after being gone for so long was special for me. I realized how much I missed that community and that home that I have there. I’m now in New York full time, and I have a love affair with that city, there’s nothing like it.”
Morrison’s show in Beaver Creek on Sunday will channel that relationship with the city and the stage through standards and favorites from throughout his career.
“It’s going to be a career retrospective of my life, different Broadway shows that I’ve done and a song or two from ‘Glee,’ just telling my story and connecting with the audience, letting them get to know me,” he said. “I got to hide behind a lot of great characters, and this is my chance to show who I am.”