Television’s Glee sensation Matthew Morrison sweeps Segerstrom audience off their feet
by Tyler Dean
The giant concert hall of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Center was plastered in love-laced reds and purple hues this past weekend as the Pacific Symphony Orchestra settled in to celebrate its 35th year with performances arranged for the 2013-2014 Pops Series. If it were any other weekend, patrons might be witness to classical renditions of Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean, or maybe something out of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Luckily for us, and especially the ladies in the audience, it was Valentine’s Day weekend, which meant the hall – all of its four stories were filled to the brim with men and women of all ages – found itself transported back to such otherworldly locales as the smoky-haze of Delilah’s gaze in Camille Saint-Saëns mid-nineteenth century Bacchanale choral epic of the same name, and, for the older audience members, the rough seas thoroughfare induced by the “memory lane” antics of Alan Silvestri’s Father of the Bride suite.
Having sat in on the orchestra’s rousing performances of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Piano Concerto No. 1’s in past Thursday evenings, it was a refreshing change to be toe-tapping to Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster’s Love is a Many Splendored Thing and Someone to Watch Over Me by George Gershwin. It was a “let your hair down” kind of evening, with Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman inducing the audience into a few chuckles with his candor and sense of irony in the interim between pieces—the bible’s story of Samson and Delilah isn’t exactly the most romantic or successful of historical hook-ups. Midway through the first half of Thursday’s performance, special guest Barry Hon took to the stage in his Pacific Symphony—indeed, any symphony—conductor debut, leading the men and women of the orchestra in a patriotically-charged rendition of John Philip Sousa’s The Thunderer March, mobilizing the audience into a clapping tandem. Swinging the conductor’s baton with the practiced efficiency of a man born for this moment, the usually quiet philanthropist and long-time resident of South County leaves an indelible mark on the evening.
Following the Pacific Symphony’s beautifully matter-of-fact performance of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Tempestuous in Love and Dance, a whirlwind of melodic colloquialisms that imbue the audience member not without a sense of kitchen-sink passion, the lights come on. Before we take our leave for those short ten minutes, Kaufman is sure to remind us, not for the first time, that that evening’s second half is to be quite a treat … well, maybe for the ladies (and, of course, some of the men as well): best known for his onscreen television role as the ever-optimistic high school teacher Will Schuester in Fox’s Glee, Matthew Morrison will be taking the stage to seduce audiences with a plethora of jazz standards and show tunes. Needless to say, I could almost feel the collective intake of breath that the unusually high population of teenage girls in the audience made. And, okay, I guess I was a little excited too.
After my guest and I made a quick jaunt to the restroom, we find our seats before the lights dim and a not-so-subtle introduction is made by the man of the hour himself: bedecked in one of the crispest tuxedos, Morrison takes his place in front of the orchestra and belts out Ellington and Mills’ It Don’t Mean a Thing with moves and voice working in perfectly timed measure, not unlike melted dark chocolate running over warm velvet. In short, it’s transformative, setting the stage for the rest of the evening, with pieces by Frank Loesser (Luck be a Lady), Arlen & Mercer (Come Rain or Come Shine), and, of course, a medley mash-up from the Romeo and Juliet-inspired musical, West Side Story.
The set pieces all come from Morrison’s latest album release, Where it all Began, which can aptly be described as a collection of standards, many first made famous in Broadway musicals. An appropriate assemblage when you consider that the singer/dancer/actor himself got his comeuppance in the Great White Way many years prior to his television namesake. Tonight not only marks the Valentine’s Day weekend, but also a sort of homecoming for the NYU Tisch School of the Arts alum; and it would seem that audiences couldn’t be happier to spend it with this handsome devil-in-a-suit.
Let’s take a moment to go over the obvious. Let me give it to you straight: if you’ve ever caught an episode of Glee where “Mr. Schuester” happens to be vocalizing a show tune jive, then understand that that’s basically what you’re getting with the live performance of Morrison’s album (complete with the perpetually-present Brad Ellis on piano and tonight’s acting musical director. That is to say, nothing you haven’t already heard).
Don’t get me wrong, Morrison is hypnotic onstage—you enjoy watching him, whether it’s nearly forcing Kaufman off his podium with barely-restrained tap dancing to Cole Porter’s It’s All Right with Me, twirling an umbrella a la Gene Kelly to Singin’ in the Rain, or sharing one of the many stories of his youth in between songs. He is, as even some of his detractors will admit, a tremendous performer with tremendous talent. But you aren’t getting anything new here; the only time I found myself contemplating anything beyond comparisons to the “original” was during two particularly misty performances, Come Rain or Come Shine and Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns (the latter causing Morrison to share in the blurry-eyed festivities), sung with a warm syrup-rich viscosity that I found especially gripping.
The orchestra, for its part, couldn’t have been more in sync with the spirit of the music. Hopping from era to era has never been so easy or seamless as when confronted with a seat in a concert hall, and the Pacific Symphony is no different; between principal clarinetist Benjamin Lulich’s killing it in Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and solos from the violin and a synthed guitar in mambo instrumental Sway, the evening couldn’t have been more poignant in its saturation of the sexy. Morrison, for his part, compounds this with his suave vocals and stage presence.
The nagging predictability carries over into the encore when Morrison appears onstage with a ukulele (for the record, I’m a major fan of the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole “Over the Rainbow” rendition) and, in one of the more memorable acts of the evening, invites OCSA student Anika Braganza from the wings of the hall to join him for a duet. Their performance is, not surprisingly, very beautiful, and one can’t help but reward the culmination of this evening’s trip down the proverbial tunnel of love with an outpouring of applause for the pair.
On a personal note: I, for my part, scored major points for taking a risk and setting my date within close proximity of Matthew Morrison. Luckily, our relationship escaped unscathed.
Television celebrity and Broadway sensation Matthew Morrison joins Pacific Symphony Pops for a Valentine’s Day spectacular of romantic show tunes and jazz standards. Best known for his popular role as Will Schuester, the optimistic and charming teacher on “Glee,” Morrison also brings an impressive Broadway résumé to the stage. The Emmy-, Tony- and Golden Globe-nominated star has performed in smash hits including the original cast of Hairspray, Footloose, and The Light in the Piazza. Morrison has released three albums, the most recent of which, “Where it all Began,” was praised by The Washington Post for “Morrison’s handsome tenor backed by jazz combos, jazz big bands and orchestral strings.” An Orange County native, Morrison returns to his old stomping grounds to serenade the audience with his dazzling stage presence and a voice as smooth as chocolate.
For more information regarding Pacific Symphony events or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org
Richard Kaufman has devoted much of his musical life to conducting and supervising music for film and television productions, as well as performing film and classical music in concert halls and on recordings. The 2013-2014 concert season marks Kaufman’s 23rd season as Principal Pops conductor of Pacific Symphony.
Pacific Symphony, celebrating its 35th season in 2013-14, is led by Music Director Carl St. Clair, who marks his 24th season with the orchestra. The largest orchestra formed in the U.S. in the last 40 years, the Symphony is recognized as an outstanding ensemble making strides on both the national and international scene, as well as in its own community of Orange County. Presenting more than 100 concerts a year and a rich array of education and community programs, the Symphony reaches more than 275,000 residents—from school children to senior citizens.