Matthew Morrison: Song and Dance Man
Matthew Morrison is tapping outside by the pool. Under a canopy of palm trees with the Los Angeles sun beaming down, he’s grooving to the music in his mind. Watching him dance can transport you to a different era.
Set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills, the scene looks plucked from the Tinseltown of yore. The classic song-and-dance man moves to the beat of his own drum with a sense of unbridled joy. Has Gene Kelly come back to life? Has the departed soul of Fred Astaire been reincarnated?
“I am someone who feels like I was born in the wrong era,” Morrison says. “I have a connection with that music and that time and just how simple it was. Today, music is all about coming up with a cool beat, whereas back then [it was] music and lyrics that tell a story.”
Our photo shoot is at the Garcia House, an architectural icon designed by John Lautner that is famous as the house that rolls down the hill in Lethal Weapon 2. Celebrity tour buses drive by throughout the day, and when the echo of a tour guide’s microphone reverberates through the house, Morrison jokingly waves and smiles, though no fan can see him.
After the shoot, back in his own clothing (a cream-colored sweater, faded jeans, and white Converse sneakers), Morrison sits in an armchair in the book-lined study. The sun is setting, and pink and orange hues filter through the wide windows overlooking the hills. If he’s exhausted from the day, he doesn’t show it.
Morrison is a triple threat — singer, dancer, actor — an increasing rarity in an industry obsessed with quick hits and Instagram followings. After cutting his teeth on Broadway starring in shows like Hairspray and South Pacific, Morrison catapulted into the spotlight on the Fox musical television series Glee as Will Schuester, the loveable Spanish teacher with big dreams.
Right now, he’s focused on his latest role: father. His son, Revel James Makai Morrison, was born on Oct. 12, 2017. Revel and Morrison’s wife, Renee, joined him at our photo shoot. In between setups, Morrison would lovingly dote on his wife and son, never losing the quintessential new-dad expression of curiosity, concern, and adoration. As an only child, Morrison didn’t grow up around other children, so caring for and bonding with Revel has been a transformative experience.
“Seeing him develop that awareness of what it is to be around a child, and to see that beautiful innocence, it’s so powerful,” Renee says. “I’ve never met anybody who is so concerned and just passionate about being there for his family. He’s just such an incredible human. I feel so fortunate to be his partner.”
Renee says Morrison has taken a hands-on role in parenting, changing most of the diapers when he’s home. She says he constantly worries whether Revel is breathing.
“It’s scary. We’re really responsible for this human being,” Morrison says. “All the things you hear about going into parenting are true. I’ve never known love like this.”
Morrison’s smile is disarming, and he has an easy confidence that makes you wonder if he’s always performing. When he’s passionate about his subject — his wife, his son, Broadway — he doesn’t miss a beat, and his voice lures you in, leaving you hanging on every word as if it were a musical note. Every fidget becomes a little dance.
According to his mentor, Ralph Opacic, he has had star quality from a young age.
“He was that likable, charismatic kid,” says Opacic, who is the founder and executive director of the Orange County School of the Arts in Los Alamitos, Calif., where Morrison graduated from high school. “He fit in with the artistic musical-theater kids at OCSA. He fit in with the athletes on the soccer field. He fit in with the student-leadership kids.”
After six seasons on Glee in a part Morrison says was tailor-made for him and his talents, he’s eager to dive into unexpected roles, departing from the good-guy archetype. “I feel like everyone kind of thinks of me as Mr. Schuester, that kind of happy-go-lucky nice guy, which I am, but I’m an actor,” he says. “I have been doing this my whole life. I feel like I have a lot of depth and different things to offer.”
He’s eager to do it all: film (he appeared in the Alicia Vikander vehicle Tulip Fever); television (he has a recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Jo Wilson’s abusive ex-husband); and the stage (he led a benefit concert of Damn Yankees alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal and Whoopi Goldberg in December.)
Early 2018 is busy for Morrison: He’s performing six nights at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York, Jan. 7-13. “It’s one of the sexiest rooms in New York,” he says. “I love how intimate it is; I love that I can just talk to people.”
As far as what he plans to perform, Morrison is still figuring it out and wants to let his instincts lead him in the moment. “I’m very free-flowing and I like to ad lib onstage, so I just kind of go wherever I go,” he says.
In February, he’ll travel to Japan, where he’s headlining six shows in Tokyo and Osaka, and then he’ll return to China to complete filming for the sci-fi movie Crazy Alien, which will be released in 2019.
Theater will always be home for Morrison. “I can’t not be on the stage,” he says with a sigh. “You have that bond with those people, because you are literally looking out for each other, and if something goes wrong you have to count on these people — you can’t just call ‘cut.’”
He’d love to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel, John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, and put on a production of City of Angels. “And I want to do it with Leslie Odom Jr.,” he says.
Morrison follows his passions wherever they take him, from stage to screen and back again. His latest venture is a startup, Sherpapa Supply Co., a lifestyle brand for family adventures. He cofounded the company, which sells durable gear specifically for dads, with his friend Zach McDuffie.
“Everything you buy as a parent is garage-sale fodder within the first year,” he explains. “We believe in durability over the disposable. Our bag is for all seasons of fatherhood, from the go-bag to the delivery room, to the diaper bag, to carrying food and snacks for your kid, to putting your tools in it to fix your daughter’s first apartment.”
Morrison wants to limit how often he is on the road touring so he can be home with his family, but he says becoming a father won’t change how he selects projects.
“It’s changed my perspective on work,” Morrison says. “I’m in a business where it’s very selfish. You’re always thinking about yourself, and I just don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not about you anymore; it’s about your family unit. For me, that’s the most important thing in my life right now.”
Styled by Drew Jessup
Hair and makeup by Diana Schmidtke
Shot at The Garcia House
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