Euan Morton Live at The Algonquin
There's more to this young man than meets the eye as I am sure you will agree if you have ever seen him perform. I talking about the energetic and very personable talent know as Euan Morton. Morton has brought his unique performance style for HERE AND NOW, his new concert being presented at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the charming Oak Room from March 4, 2008 through March 29, 2008. Among the selections he will be presenting are 'Pure Imagination', 'Hallelujah', 'Matelot', 'Smile', 'Children Will Listen', 'You Got It' and 'You Go To My Head' among others. Bryan Reeder is the Musical Director/Pianist, with Calvin Crosby on bass and Will Clark, percussion. Director is Lee Armitage.
Morton, a native of Scotland, received a Tony nomination for originating the role of Boy George in the musical Taboo, having moved to New York in 2003 to play the role on Broadway, where he also earned Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Award nominations, as well as the Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway debut. He earned a 2006 Obie Award for his appearance in Measure for Pleasure at the Public Theatre. His other stage appearances include the title roles in Tony Kushner's adaptation of Brundibár at the New Victory Theatre and Berkeley Rep, The Who's Tommy at the Bay Street Theatre, and Caligula for the inaugural season of the New York Musical Theatre Festival (2004 NYMF Award). Off-Broadway, Euan appeared opposite Alfred Molina in Howard Katz at the Roundabout, and most recently was seen on Broadway in the 2007 revival of Cyrano de Bergerac. Euan has recently released his debut solo CD, NewClear. He has appeared in concert at Town Hall, the Metropolitan Room, Joe's Pub, Birdland and the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA., and conducts master classes in the crafts of acting and singing around the country.
So, now let's talk to Euan about his show and more ..
TJ: So how's it going?
MORTON: It's going great. My second day off and it's very nice this doesn't happen on Broadway. I'm thinking of writing to the producer's league and recommending that we get Sundays and Mondays off in the future.
TJ: Yeah, that will happen. I was just reading the New York Times review of your show and they liked you!
MORTON: Yeah!! I think what was nice about that was that he was really honest in the review. I think he enjoyed me personally but I also he found problems with the show and certain aspects of the storytelling procedure in the show. When I read the review, I was a little upset thinking, "Damn! He got it!" I think what was nice about the review was he gave me something to work with. I really have seen the show grow since the opening night. I can safely say that I feel much more comfortable and much more engaged now than I did on Tuesday night.
TJ: How have the audiences been?
MORTON: The crowds have been great. You know, the numbers have been up and down. It was so busy on Friday but it's been busy every other day. I think it's hard. I'm entering a world where nobody really knows who I am. Taboo was four years ago now and some people have followed my work since then and some haven't. I'm kind of playing with a whole new audience here. The audiences have been really friendly and great. There have been some really good people like I met Desmond Child a couple of days ago. It was all I could do to not sing "livin' la vida loca". I really had to bite my tongue. He was fantastic. He's being inducted into the Hall of Fame so he was really excited. And Tommy Tune, of all people, was there in the front row.
TJ: He is a tall guy! He is all legs and what a talented dancer.
MORTON: Yes, he is!! And another one who is also like that is Chita Rivera. She is remarkable.
TJ: Has she come to see your show?
MORTON: No, unfortunately. I really should be on my knees begging her to come. I love that lady. She's amazing!
TJ: Yes, she is a wonderful lady.
MORTON: And you know who else is, Mary Beth Peil. Do you know her? She's in Sunday in the Park with George right now and she was also in Nine. She did this show called 33 Variations by Moisés Kaufman. Last year I went to see the workshop of Grey Gardens and said, "Fifty dollars on Christine Ebersole to win the Tony!" This year I want to put fifty dollars on Mary Beth Peil to win the Tony for 33 Variations.
TJ: OK. It's official.
MORTON: I'll be really upset if she doesn't win it. Did you ever go somewhere and just see this gem of a performance? It's so amazing. I love this country and I love the industry in this country.
TJ: It is a great place, indeed. Now your show is running in the Oak Room at the Algonquin for three weeks?
MORTON: Actually, it's an odd number of dates. It's March 4th through the 29th, so actually it's closer to four weeks.
TJ: In the review, they mention Karen Carpenter. You obviously have a love of her.
MORTON: Some people love Pink Floyd, some people love other performers. I happen to love Karen Carpenter.
TJ: She really had an effect on your life?
MORTON: You know, I was very young and my mother had gone through a divorce and I think she was kind of depressed about the whole thing. So she would listen to the Carpenters and Joni Mitchell. Therefore, vicariously, so would I. In retrospect, in thinking about Karen's voice and her brother, Richard's arrangements were thought of then as kind of cheesy. I mean it was a time of the Vietnam War and people were marching for causes and then they had songs with lyrics like, 'why do birds suddenly appear'. The only person who loved the Carpenters was the President and everyone hated the President. They really did appear at the wrong and the right time.
I mean when you listen to Richard's arrangements and Karen's voice singing, 'I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cared if I should live or die.' For me as a kid, my dad had just gone, and I wanted to be depressed. But Karen was also technically perfect. Even just to listen to her voice, I knew there was something miraculous going on in there. It was not just about connecting to a song emotionally, which she did, but technical performance, which you don't hear a lot of these days. Madonna's wonderful, but she's not technically brilliant. Christina Aguilera is amazing but her technique is to find a note and slide around to five hundred others. It's a very different style of singing. Karen was basic, honest and perfect. And I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be basic and honest. I just wanted to do to people what Karen Carpenter did to me. And I think that's what made me love her. I want to do that and make people feel the way she made me feel. Listen to me, I sound like Mother Teresa.
TJ: No you don't. It's very honest and open and it's an obvious passion for you. Have you ever met Richard Carpenter?
MORTON: No, I haven't, unfortunately. I sent him a couple of letters a long time back. I don't want to come across as a crazed fan. I genuinely adore his work. I would like to meet him because I would like to work with him.
TJ: Well, you got your CD Newclear in the stores. Maybe your next album you might try to get him involved with it?
MORTON: That would be a joy. I would even just love to have his endorsement. I've invited him to come to the Oak Room, actually. He's been away working over this past week and I am hoping he can come. He lives in LA and it's a whole other life with writing and producing for other people right now. You know, he's still very involved in the industry. What's nice about the recording industry these days is how much things have changed. You don't have to have a contract with BMI anymore or be picked up by Sony Records anymore, though it helps. It is possible to do it alone. I have friends who have songs out and they have never even printed an album. They sell it via I-Tunes or Rhapsody and they just sell digital media.
In making a second album, of course, I would love to have Richard involved. But I also want to know that I am not just throwing something together to have a product and call it a second album. I learned so much doing Newclear and want to use that knowledge. A second album is definitely in the work but it's something that I'm living with right now rather than jumping on top of it. I told you I might Desmond Child recently and meeting a lot of people still. I want to leave all the doors open.
TJ: How did you go about making the choices of material for the show at the Oak Room?
MORTON: Well, it was different on how I normally would. I wanted to keep the songs that have been popular in other concerts and I wanted to keep songs that make me happy. Songs like Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, Roy Orbison's You Got It, and Paul Simon's American Tune. The audience that goes to the Oak Room likes the standards, the Great American Songbook and for me, that's a challenge. It's something new, it's something exciting! So I also chose songs like Someone To Watch Over Me and You Go To My Head. I am also singing Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
I wanted to do an older style of music with a modern performance. It's a pretty eclectic mix. And I'm lucky enough that the audience has been going with me. The people that have come to my past shows are also enjoying the new material, seeing another side of me. It's nice to find this kind of a balance. And there's a nice uniformity between me and the band.
TJ: Did you include much music from your CD?
MORTON: Well, Hallelujah is from the CD. That's actually the only song from the CD I did, mainly because I have performed the music from the CD a lot in New York and we're also selling the CD here. I thought people will be able to hear the album if they buy it afterwards and those who are my friends and family have already heard the album. So, I wanted to offer something new to for them as well as something new for the Oak Room audiences. I picked Hallelujah because I think that's the one that people enjoy the most and like to hear. It's not cheap to go to the theatre or a concert these days and you have to save up your money. So when your fans are paying to see you, you want to make sure you have something new to share with them. They want to hear the special songs too but you want to let them hear something new and different from you.
TJ: What is it like for you to get up on stage and be Euan Morton as opposed to playing a character in a show?
MORTON: It's funny you should say that. I was talking about this recently and I was really nervous on opening night. I had asked the Algonquin if I could have a couple of previews. I felt like I was playing this character, a sweet innocent boyish tourist who was lucky enough to be plucked up and given this great opportunity. But then I realized, this was my chance not to play a character. To not be Boy George in Taboo, to not be Tommy in Tommy The Musical. Not trying to be me promoting Newclear, not trying to be me trying to get the green card. To be me, I know I am lucky. I was lucky enough to be the person onstage the day Rosie O'Donnell flew to London and saw some random little show. I know how lucky I am to be here and I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to perform in this room.
To be honest, this is amazingly freeing. I was worried about it because you are really on your own. You are totally exposed out there and if things go wrong, you're to blame. If things go brilliantly, you're allowed to take the glory. Yes, there is that side where you're not protected by a character but you're also not hiding behind one either. I love people! I love meeting the audience. I talk to everyone. I say hello to people in the street when I walk past them. I come from a farming town where everyone says hello to everyone.
So here I am standing in this amazing room with all this oak paneling and the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and so many amazing writers and yet I get to be me. I get to be irreverent and I get to tell jokes about laughing so hard I peed myself and not just another character. Honestly, even if nothing else comes from it, I will have had this experience that has made me more confident as a person and I think it will have been a success.
TJ: You must be one of the youngest performers to have played the Oak Room.
MORTON: Apparently so. I think Jamie Cullum was maybe younger than me but I'm not sure. I think maybe we were the same age or he was a little younger than me. Certainly one of the youngest people in the room on any given night. The band members are actually the youngest people performing in the room. They're 20, 21 and 23 respectively. It feels good that they chose me to represent my generation, if you like. I'm also from a different country, you know? Barbara McGurn, who books the talent for the Algonquin, saw my show when I was at the Metropolitan and she asked if I would like to play at the Oak Room. The show would need polishing and some changes but she really liked what she saw. So she really took a chance on me.
I've always been lucky like that. I know how hard it is. Most of my friends are actors or singers and they've never worked. I have a friend who I went to college with back in London and he was an amazing performer, a great actor and a great human being. He ended up driving an ambulance and you know, he's giving more back to the world doing that job that he ever would have as an actor. It's just so unfortunate that talent is what keeps you there but it's not what gets you there.
Before playing Boy George in Taboo, I was working in Tower Records selling soundtracks to movies and musicals and along came this guy who said, "Do you want to play Boy George? You totally look like him and I know you sound like him." I said no, that I didn't want to be in a musical. I had trained in Shakespeare and Chekov and the Greeks. That was my training. He told me this could change my life and I said no again. I said no five times until I was badgered into doing it.
So just think if I had said no once more, my life would be entirely different. Well, I wouldn't be running Tower Records as they shut the bloody store, didn't they. Ok, I'd be unemployed in London somewhere. It's just being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person pointing at you sand saying, "OK, it's your turn now." At the end of the day, what's really nice for me too, that's kept my feet on the ground and hasn't turned me into some crazy alcoholic, is that I haven't always had the great successes. I have had a few but I have also had some not so great successes or played in shows in a minimal role where I was overlooked. Although I learned a lot as an actor, I wasn't really building career steps.
I wasn't launched into overnight worldwide fame like the real Boy George was. And to some degree, thank God. I mean, look at the real Boy George and what's become of his life. Look at Britney Spears. Look at Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson and all of these kids who were elevated into positions of vast wealth and power without any of the grounding that most parents require of their children. Most parents look at their kids and say, "You're going to be with me until you're eighteen. We want you to go to college. We been saving up your entire life for you to go to college to be the best that you can be." And then there's this other entity in the industry that plucks people out of obscurity and launches into a platform of absolute worldwide celebrity and that is very, very dangerous. And I am glad that it didn't happen that way for me because, honestly, I would have become a male Britney Spears, I know I would have.
You need to be well protected and well supported if you're in the business because that psychosis is right there waiting. That need to be loved, that look at me, look at me mindset. And when someone's not looking at you and not recognizing you and not applauding you, you need that support to remind you that you are good, you do belong, you do deserve, and you are a good person. Be a good person, be yourself, and be safe. If you don't have that, you're screwed, absolutely screwed in this industry.
TJ: You have this down to a T. How old are you?
TJ: You have such an amazing outlook on things and I thought you were younger than that.
MORTON: (laughing) Well, my manager told me once, "You're 26 and I'll tell you when you're 27." When you get close up to this face, you know I'm 30, believe me.
TJ: Well, now I am totally informed. And it is a pleasure to talk to someone like yourself who is so well adjusted and grounded and appreciative of where you are. Hey, thanks for taking the time out to talk.
MORTON: Thank you and have a great week!
It's always great to talk to Euan and you should try to get to his Oak Room debut March 4th to March 29thin his show, 'Here and Now' presented at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in from March 4, 2008 through March 29, 2008. Shows are Tuesday through Thursday at 9:00 and Friday and Saturday at 9:00 and 11:30. There is a $65 cover charge per person plus either $30 minimum or $70 prix fixe dinner (dinner is required early shows Friday and Saturday). For reservations, call (212)419-9331 or buy them at the hotel. Check it out folks. As always, theatre is my life, so ciao for now!!
Photo Credit Linda Lenzi
From This Author TJ Fitzgerald