BWW Review: AN EVENING WITH MATTHEW MORRISON at Mayo Performing Arts Center
Everyone's favorite Spanish teacher said 'hello' New Jersey Friday night at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. As soon as Matthew Morrison with his refreshingly clean shaven face (he donned a beard for a year during Finding Neverland) started singing Adele, I was ready to walk right out of the theater. I'm kidding. Good thing he quickly stopped and reminded the audience that he's a song and dance man who should have been born in a different decade, due to his love of the classic songs. Phew.
I've met Matthew several times over the last decade and a half. The first time was in 2002, right after Hairspray opened. The second instance was at 54 Below, when he was seeing his on-screen arch nemesis, Jane Lynch, perform. Most recently, I got the chance to briefly chat with him backstage after a performance of Finding Neverland. When I left the theater, I remember saying he was the most gracious star on Broadway. Friday, was no different.
Dressed in a sports jacket and black pants while flanked by a band of five and an all-black curtain, Matthew Morrison lit up the auditorium. At one point he teased he was going to take off his shirt, but reminded the audience that part of the performance was only for Lincoln Center and if he did that in Jersey, "it's just the shore."
Matthew started his show with a lively rendition of Frank Sinatra's 'Let's Fly Away,' followed by 'The Lady is a Tramp' and Oliver's 'As Long As He Needs Me.' He then introduced his pianist for the evening, but didn't really need to do so. I already knew by the mere profile of his face who this TV celebrity was. Just call out any song and this man who never speaks will gleefully play it without sheet music or preparation. You don't know who I'm talking about yet? It was Brad Ellis, the piano player on Glee! He talked more during the evening than he did during the entire series (except for that one episode where he jokes about all the dialogue he had to learn for the show).
Matthew then went into a retrospective of songs from his career, minus Footloose, Rocky Horror and Once Upon a Mattress (remember? It aired on ABC). For some reason, he started with music from South Pacific, then Finding Neverland, followed by a compilation from his album of original and Elton John songs. It was a treat when a group of kids from the Mayo Performing Arts Center came out on stage to sing backup during a few numbers. Then, a young woman who I immediately recognized was asked to sing a special duet with Matthew. Rachel Levy, 17, from Montville first drank a sip of water from Matthew's water bottle calling it, "the best day of my life." They then performed 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' together. Rachel, you may remember, got that prestigious honor of singing 'For Good' from Wicked with Kristin Chenoweth during Broadway at the White House. That's where Matthew met her, calling it 'his dream to sing with her.'
It was then finally time for Matthew to head back to Lima, Ohio. Someone in the audience joked for him to sing 'Gold Digger' and he obliged briefly. After this, Matthew fondly remembered his former cast mate Cory Monteith and sang Coldplay's 'Fix You' in his memory, wiping a tear from his eye. After that emotional performance, he dazzled the audience with Gene Kelly's 'Singin' In The Rain.' Don't get any ideas about him bringing this to Broadway. Derek Hough's already been tapped (pun intended) for the coveted role.
Matthew followed with two songs from The Light In The Piazza and ended with a rousing medley from Hairspray. It was the highlight of the whole evening and had the whole audience singing and moving along in their seats. It was also like he was auditioning for every role yet to be cast for the live broadcast in December on NBC. That is except for Corny Collins, which ironically will also be played by Derek Hough. Hey, the role of Link is still available.