‘NSO Pops: An Evening with Matthew Morrison’ by Jessica Vaughan

Matthew Morrison, the TV and theater star with the golden pipes makes his solo debut at the Kennedy Center with his unique take and touching renditions of Broadway standards from My Fair Lady to West Side Story and other lesser-known pieces.

Matthew Morrison. Photo by John Willing.
Matthew Morrison. Photo by John Willing.

First, the National Symphony Orchestra took the stage, at home in the Concert Hall, for a fun program of their own. The evening began with the “Overture” from South Pacific, which was a real treat to hear from this accomplished, full orchestra with almost 100 members instead of blasting from a pit under a stage. They also featured renowned arranger Nelson Riddle on a medley of Gershwin songs originally written for piano.  Arrangers are everything for a Pops orchestra since there’s a much smaller canon of music actually written for an orchestra. They did two songs, “Put on a Happy Face” (from Bye Bye Birdie) and “Mack the Knife” (from Three Penny Opera) arranged by Conductor Steven Reineke. They were both delightful and Reineke spent the evening with a huge grin on his face and one hand on his heart even as he swept the orchestra through each piece.

Matthew Morrison, who has been nominated for a Tony Award for The Light in the Piazza as well as an Emmy and Golden Globe for his beloved Glee character, took the stage in a snappy suit and a fedora and jumped into the Duke Ellington classic, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”  An apt choice, because he couldn’t stay still all night – dancing through almost every number and flirting with the audience, jumping up on the conductors stand and taking selfies with piano-player Brad Ellis, who was a familiar face and obviously a good friend. He is the piano player on Glee and a major composer and performer in his own right.

Morrison has a jazzy, syncopated take on such classics as “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls, “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, and “The Lady is a Tramp,” made famous by Frank Sinatra, but originally from Babes in Arms. In one of his many chats with the audience he said he should have been born in the Rat Pack. He could have held his own. He definitely took advantage of the concert setting to play with these songs, speeding them up and adding new rhythm. He does sing one song from his role on Glee, “Sway” which fit right in with its marimba beats.

Morrison also reels you in on the ballads like his mash-up of “Come Rain or Come Shine/Basin Street” where he sings “I Want to Love You,” and you want to believe him. He also sings “Younger than Springtime” from his role in South Pacific and the heartbreaking ballad, Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” which had most people tearing up, including him.

One highlight is the “West Side Story Medley” where he cycles through almost every song from that musical to the driving beat of a snare drum and minimal orchestration, ending with the transcendental “Maria.” A joyful “Singing in the Rain” caps the evening, complete with umbrella before he breaks out his ukulele for an encore of “Duke Ellington,” or Merry Christmas in Hawaiian, another classic, this one from Bing Crosby.

Matthew Morrison has the range to pull off the serious singing, the acting chops to conjure up a character just for a single song, and the charisma of a true performer. It was a really fun evening and a great chance to see this versatile performer sing the songs he loves the most, delivering unique renditions on classic Broadway with enthusiasm, love, and some very powerful pipes.

Running time: Two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.

NSO Pops: An Evening with Matthew Morrison plays again tonight – November 30, 2013 at 8 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall — 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.


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