Sondheim says he's created this family around him to replace the one he feels is missing.
It’s been seven years since Scotsman Euan Morton blew Broadway audiences away (and scored a Tony Award nomination) in his debut performance as Boy George in Taboo, and just as long since the star, who also counts Cyrano de Bergerac among his credits, hit the NYC boards in a musical. Fortunately, we’ve got the pitch perfect leading man back in Sondheim on Sondheim, where you can catch him love dueting with Barbara Cook and giving a seriously solid performance as Charley Kringas from Merrily We Roll Along. We checked in with Morton to chat about private lessons with legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, his post-Taboo rough patch and the “bubble of awesomeness” that is his current gig.
So, I saw the show on Sondheim’s birthday, when Roundabout renamed Henry Miller’s Theatre for him. He cried when they told him. Everyone cried!
Wasn’t it awesome? Even Tom Wopat had tears in his eyes, and Tom Wopat is a very manly man who doesn’t cry often. It was awesome to see Stephen react in that way, like a little kid.
What was it like to be part of Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration?
It’s already an honor to be part of the show, but to be part of his history and to see him turn 80? Amazing. I was also lucky to have an hour of his time, just he and I in the theater, running through “Franklin Shepard Inc.” [from Merrily We Roll Along] together. It was just him telling me what he sees in the song, inside out.
Was that intimidating?
I was scared to reinterpret Sondheim’s work. It comes kind of pre-done, you know what I mean? Like, when you get a Lloyd Webber song, there’s a million ways to interpret it. There is with Sondheim too, but there’s also this added pressure to do it as well as it’s been done before. You’re working with other people’s expectations. I was really nervous about that. Then [Sondheim] explained how he sees the song—and how I should set myself free and not try to be Mandy Patinkin or anyone famous.
When you started singing as a kid, did you ever imagine you’d be having private sessions with Sondheim?
No, never! In fact, the first year I was at drama school I was given the song “Finishing the Hat” [from Sunday in the Park with George] to sing. I didn’t know anything about Sondheim. I’d come from a little farm in Scotland—the only shows I ever listened to were Chess and Les Miz. Anyway, I hated “Finishing the Hat”! I gave it back to the singing teacher and said, “I don’t want to sing this song, it’s too difficult and I don’t understand it.” It wasn’t until much later in life that I finally went, “I get it now! It’s about neurotic, crazy people!” Now that I've gotten older, I’d like to think I understand his work a lot better.
You obviously love singing. Why the long break between Broadway musical gigs?
Honestly, the situation just never arose for me to be able to come back with something right for me. There’s been [musical] projects I’ve been involved with, like Caligula the Musical, but it’s not cheap to put a musical on Broadway—or anywhere! Most of the work I’ve done recently has been out of town in great spaces with great directors. I’ll always be singing songs and doing what I love to do, just not [always] on the Great White Way. Is that what they call Broadway?
Phew! Anyway, it’s so weird. [Right now], I have my little dressing room. I sit there in this bubble of awesomeness, getting to be involved in this great piece, and I’m actually able to enjoy it. I used to have this urgency to "make it," to never stop being on Broadway. Now, I have much less urgency. I just want to enjoy it.
Has your ambition waned, or is your focus just different?
When I first came here with Taboo, it was a ridiculous, unreal situation surrounded by amazingly wealthy people with huge personalities. Life was handed to me on a silver platter. I believed it all, but it turned out not to be true. That took a long time to recover from. I didn’t have any friends, ultimately, after it finished. I didn’t know anybody here. It was my first time in the country! Now, seven years later, I have a whole network of people and a family. [Morton married producer Lee Armitage in 2005 and became the father of son Lain in 2008.] Sondheim says he’s created this family around him to replace the one he feels is missing—I guess I did the same in the end. That makes it easier to enjoy things.
What is the greatest Sondheim love song ever?
Well, this might be a bit controversial, but I think it’s from Passion, “I Wish I Could Forget You.” I love it because it’s such a dark, twisted view of love. I guess that’s the wrong answer because I would say it’s a “bad love” song, but in my interpretation of what love is, that’s the best.
If you could play any Sondheim role on Broadway after this show, what would you pick?
I wouldn’t mind playing The Baker in Into the Woods because of “No More,” the song he sings with his father. I just want to sing that song! But I’d love to play George [in Sunday in the Park With George]. Unfortunately, they just had a revival so I might have to wait a few years.
So years after turning down “Finishing the Hat,” you come crawling back?
It’s true—I want to be George again!