Matthew Morrison is nothing like Will Schuester.
Both look for the good in people — or try to, at least — but Morrison is, by his own admission, a realist who quickly realizes when he's being steered wrongly.
Come Feb. 13, the Broadway, film and television performer, who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York City, plans to be himself to the hilt.
Morrison will partner with the Pacific Symphony — which he considers one of the premiere orchestras on the West Coast — for the first time. "Valentine's Day with Matthew Morrison" will run at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall until Feb. 15.
The festivities will begin the first night at 5:30 p.m. with "A Valentine Prelude," hosted by the Pacific Symphony League at the Center Club. The fund-raiser and dinner, featuring entertainment by the Orange County School of the Arts performance troupe Montage!, will benefit the symphony's music education programs.
For Morrison, teaming with a 60-piece full-bodied orchestra is simultaneously terrifying and empowering.
There's a very real chance of messing up, he admitted, drawing comfort from the knowledge that a "big army" could catch him if he were to fall (metaphorically, of course).
Singing is synonymous with vulnerability, he finds — and therapy.
"Sometimes, a song that I've sung a million times before will trigger something different in me depending on what I'm going through that day," Morrison said. "But you never know until you're actually singing that it's going to hit you that way."
Back to Orange County
Born in Fort Ord, Morrison spent most of his youth in Cypress. He wears the fact that he is a Los Alamitos High School and Orange County School of the Arts graduate with pride.
"I've been wanting to do this for a long time because it's a homecoming show for me," he said. "Of all the shows I've done in the world, there's only a few venues I really wanted to play, and this is definitely one of them. I'm excited because it's going to be a chance for all my friends and family to come see me, as well as people who were [my] mentors."
Since April, the Emmy-, Tony- and Golden Globe-nominee has worked five days a week on the set of "Glee." On the weekends, he's boarded flights and zigzagged across the East Coast and even to London, singing with symphony orchestras.
Despite the success of his tour, Morrison is particularly excited about his upcoming Costa Mesa appearance, one of his first in California.
"I'm glad that Matthew feels close to his Orange County roots," principal Pops conductor Richard Kaufman said in an email. "There is such a tremendous creative and artistic presence in O.C., and Matthew has obviously benefited from all that he learned as a result of growing up in such an inspirational environment."
As a musician, Morrison finds that there's nothing quite like being flanked by world-class talent, which the Pacific Symphony has in spades.
"That's where you go when you want to be a legitimate, well-respected [artist]," he added.
The hectic schedule has taxed him physically and vocally, but he wouldn't have it any other way, mused Morrison, who studied at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts for two years before he dropped out and joined the Broadway adaptation of "Footloose." Completely at home under the spotlight — after all, he is a stage performer at heart — he has missed connecting with audiences since filming for "Glee" began about six years ago.
"I crave that — it's almost a spiritual experience for me — relationship between an audience and a performer," Morrison said. "I love being able to take them on this journey and have them reciprocate that love of being on that journey. It's a wild ride...it's my favorite thing in the world."
Morrison, who portrayed Link Larkin in the original cast of "Hairspray" and Fabrizio Nacarelli in "The Light in the Piazza," released a self-titled album in 2011 and "Where It All Began" in 2013. These opportunities and life's experiences inspire his set lists. Each song has a special meaning, since he grew up singing some numbers while others played constantly in his home.
One such example is "On the Street Where You Live" from the musical "My Fair Lady."
"All my friends who know me and were in voice classes with me know this as my signature song," he recalled. "I sang this in high school; it's actually the song I've sung at almost every audition I've ever had in my life, including 'Glee.' So, it's a song that's been with me for a long time."
Although it's typically executed as a ballad, Morrison decided to have some fun with it. His version is a bit more up-tempo than the original and features an accompanying dance.
"Combining Matthew's vocal talent with the orchestral colors of Pacific Symphony will be thrilling," wrote Kaufman, adding that the event will also include renditions of "All the Things You Are," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" and music from the popular film "Father of the Bride."
"Because he is singing the music of Broadway, what is usually a small Broadway pit orchestral accompaniment will change to the full symphonic sound, making for a unique and exciting presentation."
From 'Glee' to sorrow
Morrison considers himself lucky that "Glee" has allowed him to reach into — and continue to develop — his arsenal of singing and dancing skills.
Unlike Broadway, though, where he acted for the farthest-seated performer in the venue, TV has taught him how to bring everything "down" and make it "smaller," since the camera is smack dab in front of him. The show's popularity is derived from the fact that music is a language that people worldwide understand and connect to, he opined. Add to that the fact that it weaves a tale around underdogs who eventually prove their naysayers wrong, and you have a recipe for the kind of runaway success that "Glee" has earned.
Along with exposing him to a wider audience and giving him a larger platform with which to work, Morrison said that "Glee" has enabled him to take his lifelong dream of being a working actor to fruition.
The show, which is midway through its fifth season and will conclude after the next one, suffered a tragedy when actor Cory Monteith was discovered dead last July in a Vancouver hotel room after overdosing on drugs and alcohol. He played Finn Hudson in the series, and his loss shook up the cast, which Morrison called a "tight-knit family" that has since gotten even closer.
The group has good and bad days, but Monteith — whose face adorns a plaque that hangs in the choir room where the glee club is often seen — is never far from their minds.
When the show's creator, Ryan Murphy, called Morrison to break the news, he recounted responding with disbelief, dismissing it as a sick joke. Only, it wasn't.
Morrison and his five-piece band were due to perform at two small Manhattan venues that weekend. After initially toying with the idea of canceling the shows, he decided that he owed his fans a show since they'd spent money on tickets.
The singer was up on stage that night, with lyrics resonating differently for him and his viewers, when he realized just how therapeutic music can be.
In closing, Morrison answered a question on the minds of "Glee" enthusiasts everywhere — will he return to the stage once the show wraps?
"I miss Broadway — that's my first love and the place that will always be home to me," he said, his voice ringing with certainty. "Look for me on Broadway in, probably, 2015."
If You Go
What: Valentine's Day with Matthew Morrison
Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 13 through 15
Cost: $35 to $185