Euan Morton Makes His Move
The multi-talented star talks about starring in the Signature Theatre's new production of Chess and the Roundabout's Sondheim on Sondheim.
THEATERMANIA: Are you excited about doing Chess?
EUAN MORTON: Absolutely. I've been singing it, privately, since I was 9, and now I get to sing it publicly. I've heard the soundtrack in so many different languages: Dutch, English, who knows what else. And it's to fun for me to sing pop/rock -- especially right now. The music is great, and it's a little less cerebral than Stephen Sondheim.
TM: Have you ever seen a production of the show?
EM: I've probably dreamt that I've seen it, but this is actually the first time I get to "see" it. And it probably helps not to have any visual preconception; since we're reworking the show. The book we're using mixes the Broadway and British versions. First of all, the politics of 1988 are a little dated; and this time, it's really told from Florence's point of view. She's the glue that holds the story together, and Jill Paice, who plays her, is really wonderful.
TM: Are you finding the score hard to sing?
EM: I am one of the luckier ones. I have some beautiful moments vocally, and the score is challenging, but it's not taxing. Jeremy Kushnier, who plays Freddy, has to sing a lot higher and harder; and that's fine with me. I don't want to spend two months ripping my voice apart.
TM: How would you describe playing Anatoly?
EM: He's Russian, and he is sort of cold and driven, but he has a heart and soul. He's in love with this woman; he defects from his own country; he's really kind of amazing. And this great emotional journey is what I am focusing on.
TM: You're Scottish and have a Scottish accent. So what's it like using a Russian accent on stage?
EM: There are many Europeans who learn English speaking with an English-type accent, and that's a little bit more of what we're going for. So I am not doing a really authentic Russian accent, especially because we want to make sure everything we say is intelligible. I'm even using a slight accent when I'm singing so it all sounds consistent. For me, it's easier to sing with the accent than speak with it.
TM: What's it like working with your director, Eric Schaeffer?
EM: Eric and I have been friends for years. He's a great guy, and I have never had a more relaxed experience as an actor; he really knows how to put you at ease. What's so great about Eric is that he's both a good dramaturg and has a true directorial vision. Plus, he is very much an everyman; even though he's the king of this castle, he acts like one of the serfs.
EM: I think it's going to be really good. I've only heard snippets of my "Franklin Sheppard" number. I do know our producer, Tommy Krasker, is thrilled with it. I have to admit I was very nervous taking on the master's music and master's work and working with James Lapine on that show. But now I know I have my place in Sondheim's world, and I miss it a lot now. As Joni Mitchell sang, you don't know what you've got til it's gone.
TM: Speaking of "Franklin Sheppard," that was one of my favorite numbers. Was it yours?
EM: When I first signed on, James asked me what I wanted to get out of doing the show, and I told him that I wanted to be challenged. But when he told me I'd be playing Charley in the sections from Merrily We Roll Along, I was a little scared, since it was my first chance to play an American character on stage. In the end, it was a challenge and it was so exciting. And if anyone ever wants me to play Charley again, I'll happily do it.
TM: And you got to sing a duet, "Beautiful," with Barbara Cook. Tell me about that experience?
EM: God, I miss doing that duet with Barbara every night. It's such a gorgeous song, and I was so thrilled we got to sing it together and then record it. I've been emailing her a lot. She's a great lady, and I learned a lot from her -- especially to shut my mouth and pay attention a little bit more. At one point, I told James they could cut every other number from the show as long as I still got to do "Beautiful" every night, and I really meant it!