Kindred spirits: Harry Connick Jr.,
Jamie Cullum, Jeremy Davenport
Shows: Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Shows start at 8 p.m. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. $20-85.
The title of Matthew Morrison’s new album, “Where It All Began,” is a reminder that before he won mega-fame as glee-club director Will Schuester on the television show “Glee,” Morrison was a star in such Broadway shows as “Hairspray,” “Footloose” and “The Light in the Piazza.” The title also refers to the long history of American musical theater before those shows ever existed. All of the songs on “Where It All Began” were written before Morrison was born in 1978.
The success of “Glee” has proved that even today’s gadget generation is susceptible to the charms and artifices of musical theater. With this album of vintage tunes, Morrison tries to strengthen that connection with the past. The album includes photos of the singer looking very much like Justin Timberlake’s recent pics, and the lyrics for songs such as “The Lady Is a Tramp” have been tweaked to add references to the New York Mets and producer Phil Ramone.
On various tracks, Morrison’s handsome tenor is backed by jazz combos, jazz big bands and orchestral strings, but the arrangements are never heavy-handed. He demonstrates excellent taste in material, emphasizing such composers as Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rodgers and completely avoiding Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schönberg (“Les Miserables”). Most important, he displays uncommon restraint for the genre, saving the belt-it-out moments for the few climaxes when they’re justified.