Despite growing up in the sunshine of Orange County, California, Matthew Morrison had always had Big Apple dreams. While a student at Los Alamitos High School he studied musical theater with his sights set on Broadway. But at the same time, he excelled in sports and was student council president. Popular and accomplished, Morrison, who is straight, found himself in the position of defending his fellow musical theater peers from homophobic taunts, be they straight or gay. It all sounds like an episode of Glee, the hit show that brought not only the issues of bullying, homophobia, and the importance of arts education, but also Morrison himself into the living rooms of America.
Morrison’s Broadway dreams came true as he arrived in New York to study at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which he left after his sophomore year when he landed a role in the musical Footloose. Since then the actor has not only garnered Tony, Grammy, and Emmy nominations, but has also become one of the biggest ambassadors for Broadway, be it on stage or on television, as he continues his love affair with New York City.
“New York has that call to people,” says Morrison. “I was always pulled to New York. Broadway was always the goal. New York was always the goal. I’ve thrived here. I knew from the moment I got here this is where I belonged. The energy is magic to me. It’s like nowhere else I know.”
Morrison is bringing a little of that magic from the Great White Way to Provincetown when he takes to the stage at Town Hall with Seth Rudetsky this weekend for an evening of stories and song. And of course, while he is best known for his role as Mr. Schuester, the director of the glee club on Glee, Broadway fans know him from musicals like Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Show, The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, and most recently Finding Neverland. He’s a student of not only Broadway, but the great American songbook and is looking forward to showing it all off in Rudetsky’s fly-by-the-seat of your pants style, revealing just how talented Morrison, and his Broadway colleagues are, as they can so easily connect with a song and character at a moment’s notice.
At 38 years old Morrison casts an aura of both a renaissance man as well as one who has a deep respect for this history of the performance genre he’d always been enamored of with his classic style of song and dance. It’s a thrilling time to be on Broadway, but then again, for Morrison it always is. With game changing shows like Hamilton, Morrison sees Broadway not just transitioning, but expanding with new voices and perspectives. But all that change is bringing the past with it, not leaving it behind, as Broadway balances tradition and innovation.
“It’s a beautiful evolution of where we are headed, but at the same time we’ll always have our revivals,” says Morrison. “It will always be this connection of where we came from.”
Getting cast in Glee was an exciting opportunity to try a new venture and medium, to say the least. But Morrison had no inkling the show would become the cultural phenomenon it did. Nor did he foresee how Hollywood would provide such a boost to Broadway, inspiring young people across the country to pursue their own musical theater dreams, just like Morrison did. While still challenging and demanding, filming Glee at times felt a little easier than performing eight shows a week six days a week in New York. And then there was also the chance to watch his own work, something not available when performing on stage, providing a chance to critique his own work.
Having left the production of Finding Neverland earlier this year, Morrison is focusing on performing solo shows, similar to what he’ll be doing at Town Hall this week. He’s always searching for projects that relate to his passions, like when in March of 2012 he hosted and narrated the PBS special Oscar Hammerstein II – Out of My Dreams, reflecting his love of classic Broadway, and appearing in Dustin Lance Black’s play 8, about the federal trial that overturned California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, expressing his support for marriage equality. Coming to Provincetown, a place that values both the arts and equal rights, is a thrill for him.
“I’ve heard so much about it,” says Morrison. “A friend just came back and raved about it. You hear about Provincetown a lot on Broadway. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Matthew Morrison will appear with pianist/host Seth Rudetsky at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., on Sunday, August 7 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets ($50 – $200) and information, go to the Art House box office at 214 Commercial St., call 508.487.9222, or visit ptownarthouse.com. Tickets also available at the door.