In Part Two of a series of interviews with the cast of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, meet Shawn Morris.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers how long you have been in the Chorus and what the Chorus has meant to you. Also, tell us about one of the most moving experiences you have had since becoming a member of the Chorus.
I’m Shawn Morris, I’m 40-something and a Libra… kinda. I like long walks on the beach (in a jock), watching Alabama football (in a jock), and late night shopping at WalMart (of course, in a jock).
Seriously though, this is my second season with a GMCW. When I joined the chorus, I was adjusting into city life and gay culture after a low point in my life and I was finding it very challenging to make that adjustment. The Chorus was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. The group became my lifeline and lifted me up without even knowing how much good they were doing for me. It has been an amazing experience with a stellar group of people.
The most moving experience I’ve had so far was when we sang “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” at our 35th anniversary show at The Kennedy Center. We passed up signs with name of folks we’ve lost over the years to AIDS. I was violently sobbing. I couldn’t even sing. I was a wreck for the rest of the show.
Why did you want to appear in the GMCW’s production of How to Succeed..? What did you perform at your audition?
I have always wanted to do musical theater but growing up in farm country Alabama in the 80’s there wasn’t much opportunity, and my young adult years sort of lead me astray so I never got the chance. When I learned we were doing a musical I flipped. When I heard which one, I was elated. I loved the Matthew Broderick cast from ’95. For my audition, I sang “I Wanna Be a Producer” from The Producers.
Have you appeared in any other productions of How to Succeed, and if so, who did you play and how is this production similar and different?
This is my first musical production.
How do you relate to your character? What do you admire about him or her? What do you despise about him or her?
I am playing a male version of Hedy Larue. I am the “bombshell mistress” of the big boss. The character is misunderstood, I think. People assume that just because of my looks I am a slut, and am just sleeping my way to the top. I am actually looking for love like everyone else (kinda), but wouldn’t mind a great job and a little fun on the way. I can relate (not because I’m a bombshell) because people assume I’m a huge slut too (which isn’t COMPLETELY true. I just want to be loved like everyone else. ;)
I admire Hedy’s complete transparency. He is very straightforward, and open. You never have to wonder what he is thinking. I don’t enjoy how dumb he is. It’d be different if it was an act, but unfortunately, Hedy is DUMB.
How would you describe Frank Loesser’s score?
Quirky, well-rounded, and fun. It’s pretty straightforward and simple, yet very effective.
What do we learn about your character when you sing your solos or duets?
We learn that I really do want to be loved.
Tell us about working with Co-Directors Thea Kano and Eric Peterson. What was their vision of the show and their vision of your character when you first began rehearsals? Has it changed? And was there something new about their vision that surprised you? or thrilled you?
Working with Thea and Eric had been an amazing experience. They have given us a great deal of creative license to bring our character to life. Our vision of Hedy was pretty similar from the start. I thought she was a little more conniving in the beginning but they envisioned her as more more genuine, which I like more anyway.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer-while working on How to Succeed?
I have learned that I am enjoying the process much more than I thought I would. I really like building a whole new person from thin air using nothing but the words they say to base them on. It’s fun to come up with little details and characteristics and mannerisms. I’m learning to trust my instincts and be BIG.
How has Musical Director Jason Sherlock helped you with your performance and vocally?
His patience and gentle nature is a joy with which to work. He has a great ear and a really approachable style of teaching that makes it easy to learn.
Why do you think How to Succeed is still so popular? What does the show have to say to today’s audiences?
A great deal of the subject matter is still all too relevant today. I think it’s still popular on the surface because it’s funny as hell, but at the core I think it still resonates with audiences. I think people see that side of humanity that all of the characters display – drive, compassion, manipulation, oh, and sex.
How would you describe Craig Cipollini’s choreography and what dance was a bitch to learn, and why?
Fab and Fosse. Unfortunately, Hedy doesn’t dance much… or at all really. I just have to be pretty. The choreography Craig has done for this show is consistent with all of the other amazing work he does for GMCW.
What would you say to a young actor who is preparing to play your role in his or her school or university production?
Really decide who you want Hedy to be before you start building your character. What is Hedy’s reason for being? What does she bring to the table?
If you could write a different ending for your character what would it be?
I think it would be great if HEDY were promoted to Chairman of the Board at the end.
Sell the show in 15 words or less…
Everything you love in a great Broadway musical, but gayer.
The Gay Men’s Chorus performs How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays March 10-12, 2017 at The Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (877) 435-9849, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast: The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’: Part One: Michael Aylward by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’: Part Two: Shawn Morris.