Morgan James is one busy lady! As if appearing in the Broadway blockbuster Motown: The Musical weren’t enough, the soulful powerhouse is making a return to 54 Below. James first headlined the Broadway hotspot in January, and this time around she will perform selections from her debut album Morgan James Live: A Celebration of Nina Simone. We chatted with James about her upcoming shows, her breakup anthem and loving Bruno Mars.
What record/album was your favorite growing up?
I was obsessed with Ladies of the Canyon by Joni Mitchell, and then went through a major Beatles phase. It became my religion for a time.
What concert most influenced you as a performer?
I saw the incredible actress and opera singer Dawn Upshaw in concert in San Francisco about 15 years ago. I'll never forget the way she took her shoes off because she wanted to. That forever changed my way of thinking about singing, propriety, form, rules. I just loved that. And she gave a superb, thoughtful concert, to boot.
What is your go-to audition song?
Now it's probably "Think" by Aretha Franklin.
What song are you most excited to perform in your show?
I am so excited to be premiering a few new songs, but particularly one called "Saved By You" that I just finished. It's a thrilling feeling to try a song out on an audience of living, breathing creatures.
What musical theater track is the most played on your iPod?
I cannot pick one...but I would say the whole cast album of Sunday in the Park with George.
If you could invite any performer onstage for a duet at 54 Below, who would it be?
Any? That is so hard! Audra McDonald and...Prince. Can they both come?
What musical theater performer from the past do you wish you could collaborate with?
What’s your favorite love song?
"You're All I Need to Get By."
What song makes you feel sexy?
"Brown Skin" by India.Arie
What is your favorite workout track?
The entire Stripped album by Christina Aguilera.
What’s the best hidden gem on your iPod?
One of my best friends growing up, Peter, makes me amazing “mix tapes” and he hides awful and hilarious songs. When I shuffle upon one, it makes my day! It's like an iPod piñata.
Favorite break-up song?
"Ex-Factor" by Lauryn Hill. Duh.
What song most makes you smile?
"You Belong to Me" from the movie The Jerk. Remember? With the ukuleles?
When this song plays, I can’t help but dance:
"Locked out of heaven": I heart Bruno Mars!
Check out Morgan James live at 54 Below April 29, June 3, June 17 and July 15. Below, sample her rendition of Adele’s “I’ll Be Waiting.”