Catching up with TV & Broadway star Matthew Morrison

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One thing’s for sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to get creative. Fortunately for Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), explosive creativity is their name of the game.

For their fifth annual Season Premiere, OCSA presented a virtual concert on Sept. 25 that highlighted the best of previous premieres and features never-before-seen professionally recorded performances by four OCSA alumna superstars.

Hosted by Broadway actress Lauren Lim Jackson (Broadway: “Pretty Woman,” “Motown the Musical”; TV: “Almost Family”), the premiere featured performances from Broadway, television and film actors: Matthew Morrison (TV: “Glee,” “American Horror Story; Broadway: “Finding Neverland,” “Hairspray”), Krysta Rodriguez (TV: “Halston,” “Smash”; Broadway: “The Addams Family,” “In The Heights”), David Burnham (Broadway: “Wicked,” “The Light in the Piazza”) and Terron Brooks (Broadway: “The Lion King”; TV: “The Temptations”). 

In addition to live music, the event hosted a weeklong virtual auction to support the public charter school’s arts conservatory programs.

I caught up with Matt Morrison about how he has spent his time in lockdown, discovering new talents, and his passion for his former grade school.

How have you been spending the time in lockdown?

Honestly, just a lot of the self-work. I’ve realized that this is like the first time in my life that I haven’t worked in like 25 years, you know? And I’ve been kind of going full-throttle for that long. So it’s been wonderful because I have a little one who is turning three pretty soon, and it’s just been wonderful to just be with my wife and my child, and just really focus on them and nothing else. That’s been rewarding, especially in a time in my son’s life where developmentally he’s in his prime. So, we’re just really getting that time in and seeing all the transitions and the animations and the mood swings and everything; just the joy as he develops his brain.

I’ve talked to so many different artists during this time, and it seems like on top of the rest period, there’s also this inspiration or creativity that’s come from having this time off. Have you experienced that?

Yes, absolutely. We are entrepreneurs. We’re actually slated to start this thing called Museum of Dance, which is an immersive theater experience that takes you through different decades of dance history. So you actually learn how like women’s suffrage led to flappers and how war time in the 1940s led to people just wanting to cut loose and swing dance. You’re actually seeing a Broadway-style show with amazing professional dancers, but they pull you into the story, so you actually get to learn the dances of the decades as you go through the experience. So you burn while you learn. So it was slated to open up in New York City in October, but obviously that’s not happening right now. So, we’re on hold with that project. But we just have been kind of finding out different ways to even make it better. I’m really excited about that one

I’m also getting more in the headspace of creating new things that really haven’t been done before. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve got a project that I’m in negotiations with now, so I can’t really talk about it, but it’s a new musical project that’s going to be on television pretty soon. So I’m just kind of working on that character and just getting inside his head and stuff.

What would you say your dream role would be?

It’s so crazy hearing that question, because I think when I was younger, I had a lot of dream roles. Like Chris in “Miss Saigon” would have been one of them. But I’ve had such a blessed career that I didn’t even know some of these dream roles. I got to create some of my absolute dream roles. Definitely changing the landscape of television with ‘Glee’ was really just a wild ride. And so instrumental in the deepening of my work, and also just inspiring a whole new generation of people in making theater cool in a way. It’s been a wild ride. I think the one character that I’d absolutely love to tackle still, and it’s been a dream of mine for a long time is John Wilkes Booth.

Ah, I could see that from other darker roles you’ve taken on.

I like darker stuff. I’m kind of drawn to them cause I’m kind of a light person. I like to go into that other side. I definitely have gone darker with different projects, but I also like to be in a positive light. We’re (my family) is all about positivity and if you go into something with a positive attitude, usually the results will end up being a positive one instead of going to stuff like with apprehension or negativity. You get to shape the experience you want to have. And I’ve realized that as I’ve gotten older; going into things with a positive attitude really has a lot to do with the outcome of what the experience will be.

Many artists I’ve talked to have discovered new talents during this lockdown time. Have you discovered anything new that you didn’t know you were capable of doing prior?

Actually (laughs), yes, I’ve had a piano at my house for a long time, but it’s just kind of sat there. I’ll have like friends come over or Brad Ellis who was on ‘Glee.’ Now he’s also my music director. So he’ll come over to work on something and play the piano, which is great, but I never play it because I don’t know how. So I’ve actually started learning how to play during this time. I wouldn’t call it a special talent because I’m not great at it, but I’m hoping someday it will be a special talent that has been cultivated in this time of COVID-19.

Do you do any songwriting?

I do, well I did. My whole first album was a lot of songwriting that I did on my own, but I don’t delve into much because I know there are a lot more talented people, and I like singing good songs, and so I rely on people that have been doing it much longer and are really, really good at it. So, it’s not something that I pursue, but I do it for fun. I make up a lot of songs for my son, he’s an easy critic. So I’m focusing on that right now.

As an alum, you have always been such a supporter of Orange County School of Arts. How have they shaped you and your career?

Yeah, it honestly laid the groundwork for my entire career, that school. I mean, music has always been an influential part of my life since childhood, but I just owe so much to that school for the nurturing, educational environment. And also the great teachers that I had that really just molded my raw talent that I had as a young kid. They just really honed all my skills and gave me new goals and aspirations, and just really set my sights onto what I wanted for my career. And I went off to college in New York after, and I just felt like I was kind of relearning everything I learned in high school, but I just felt like I was ready and that kind of propelled me to want to go out and audition.

I think my third audition was for ‘Footloose’ and I got my first Broadway show at 19 and then I was just off to the races. So, yeah, it was just vital to have that kind of nurturing environment as a young student. And I love going back there. I mean, I can’t go back there now. So I guess this is my way to do that for the virtual concert. I loved being with the students because they’re like on a different level than when I was there. Like they’re so good. I think the arts in general has had this kind of resurgence with young people. There’s so many young people that are just thriving in and so much better than when I was at that age. I kind of came into dance at a later age and they’re already doing triple turns and singing and doing crazy acting scenes. I’m blown away by the students there and just students in general. I’ve actually learned so much from them. I’m just inspired that they’re doing their own thing and are authentically themselves; that’s something that I love to see. And that’s the way you get jobs is to find what you can bring to the table that no one else is doing.

Why was this virtual benefit concert important to you?

I released a Disney album in March and I was just coming off of the UK show ‘The Greatest Dancer’ as a mentor figure. So I released the album in March and I started promoting it in New York right when COVID was hitting. I think the last performance was on ‘Good Morning America.’ And I was about to do like a whole concert tour with my band. So that all changed. And thankfully the albums still did well. I think a lot of parents were drawn to it because they needed something to kind of help them with their children that were constantly at home.

So I never really got to fully perform any of these songs the way I wanted to. So for me, it was a great chance to kind of showcase what I’m bringing to this new album and to kind of show my reimagined album. They give me full clearance and access to anything of any size I wanted to do and do it any way I wanted to do it. So it was great. And like I said, I love to have great songs and great songwriters and these are some of the best. They’re sort of solid brick to our childhood, we all grew up on these songs. So it worked on so many different levels for me. I absolutely loved getting to show that in this this virtual performance. I did a couple of hits like, ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ and ‘Friend Like Me.’, So it was fun. It was a very interesting experience filming this because we were on this little soundstage with a very limited crew. Everyone wore a mask and I was in a mask right up until this point, and it was so hot on the soundstage. But I’m happy.

What do you hope your audience will take from this benefit virtual concert experience?

I think now more than ever arts education is important. I believe in a balanced education between arts and core curriculums. But I think arts is something that has so many social benefits. From playing an instrument, and learning musical skills. I think it’s so therapeutic and music is the international language that we all speak and it connects us all. I think we can get so many positive vibrations and this is such a great cause to keep the arts going and alive. So people tune in, because they’ve really done a great job in making this a fun experience for people to just sit down and watch this amazing show with some incredible alumni.

The Season Premiere performance began Friday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. The virtual auction was live on Monday, Sept. 21 at 9 a.m. and closed Friday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. For more information, visit https://one.bidpal.net/SeasonPremiere

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