Euan Morton became famous about a decade ago playing Boy George in the musical “Taboo,” first in London and then on Broadway. Lately he’s been hanging around Washington, and Friday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, the silver-piped crooner showcased the throwback pop star he’d love to be.
Taking the night off from starring in the musical “Parade” at Ford’s Theatre, Morton and his pianist-music director, Bryan Reeder, quickly delivered a handful of chestnuts — “What’ll I Do,” “We’ll Meet Again,” “Cry Me a River,” etc., ballads played straight and sung true. These melodic, sentimental selections were pure ear candy, and with his effortless phrasing and high, floating sound, Morton clearly would have fit in mid-century, harmonizing above Bing Crosby or swapping verses with Rosemary Clooney.
But the Scotsman (gearing up for U.S. citizenship, he says) really reveled in material from more recent decades. As he bantered freely with the crowd, Morton joked that 1974-78 would have been his peak years. His silky 90-minute set gradually filled up with covers that would have warmed Casey Kasem’s Top 40 heart.
“Let It Be” rang with conviction. “Time After Time” was a gorgeous, soulful cry. Morton even braved Whitney Houston with “I Have Nothing,” putting grit into the power balled and creating a surprisingly exciting “Dreamgirls”-y moment.
Karen Carpenter got a shout-out — best ever, in Morton’s world — in his introspective, vulnerable rendition of “A Song for You.” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is becoming a bit of a trademark for Morton (the set was a significant variation on his appearance at Signature Theatre’s cabaret earlier this year), and he snarled and purred with his reliably insightful dynamic sense. Reeder drove the song hard, bending over the keyboard, his head swaying with the biting anthem’s rise and fall.
At the end, Morton comically flaunted a letter from Barbara Cook, the namesake of this performance series, in which the legendary singer suggested he close the show by turning off the microphones (one of her trademarks) and singing “Danny Boy.” He did. Deeply sweet.