Coming from the vibrant Broadway triple threat, Matthew Morrison’s recent solo album, Where It All Began, is a curious compilation.That the handsome, sympathetic star of Glee, the Tony-nominated lead in Light in the Piazza, is both a convincing singer and compelling actor has already been amply demonstrated. Yet, the collection of twelve Broadway and jazz standards which Morrison offers on this CD only rarely showcases the power or appeal of his voice.
The arrangements by Chris Walden are sometimes unusual, and Morrison, though he has both the range and dynamics to rock the studio, almost never does here. Instead, with few exceptions, he opts for a pleasant crooning and laid-back restraint that make for easy, but prosaic listening. Fortunately, Morrison possesses musicality and a sense of rhythm that help rescue his renditions, and he is accompanied by an excellent jazz quartet, but one misses seeing him onstage where his plastic grace as a dancer and charismatic charm as a performer surely contribute a great deal to his success.
One can imagine the loose-limbed Morrison tap dancing his way through Singin’ in the Rain, which he croons Crosby style, but his breathy reading of Come Rain or Come Shine lacks a true bluesy edge, and his Ease on Down the Road is oddly anemic despite help from Smokey Robinson.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Younger than Springtime should be an ideal choice, Morrison having performed the role of Lt. Cable to acclaim on Broadway in 2008, but the arrangement here employs a jarring upbeat tempo that works against the legitimate style legato line usually associated with the song. Instead of dynamic swell and long phrases, Morrison sings with a throaty, sexy angst. He has the top notes but they do not dazzle.
The same is true for two other romantic Broadway tunes, As Long as She [sic] Needs Me and On the Street Where You Live. In the first he chooses a tame intimacy; there is none of the wrenching belt that Georgia Brown brought to the original interpretation, and the aria from My Fair Lady is performed in a strange jazz tempo which is stylish, but somehow not Freddy.
The best covers come toward the end of the recording where the crooning, jazz tempi, and sense of style all come together appropriately and effectively. Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing has an infectious beat; Rodgers and Hart’s The Lady Is a Tramp is taken at a catchy, fast tempo, and Luck Be A Lady Tonight from Guys and Dolls projects both flair and characterization. Finally, in Hey There from The Pajama Game, Morrison manages to soar vocally.
The two best interpretations come in Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, which Morrison phrases with originality and feeling, and in the West Side Story medley, which concludes the recital. His jazzy Something’s Coming contrasts nicely with his romantic outpouring in both Tonight and Maria, where he credibly attacks the final high A finish.
The disc is worth the listen if only for these last few tracks and for the tantalizing hints it gives of the dynamic performer Matthew Morrison can be on stage. If only all of that magnetism had been captured here!