Bistro winner Euan Morton launches new cabaret series at Players Club

January 20, 2014
Euan Morton performing with Grandpa Musselman & His Syncopators (photo by Walter McBride)
photo: Walter McBride

On January 27, actor and singer (and 2009 Bistro Award winner) Euan Morton performed two shows in the ballroom of the Players Club at Gramercy Park. Accompanied by the brass jazz band Grandpa Musselman & His Syncopators, Morton sang a collection of vintage 1920s and 1930s popular music, including such standards as “It Had to Be You,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Stardust” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” along with some lesser-known selections.

Morton had performed a similar set in December on the stage of 54 Below in midtown Manhattan. But the Players Club ballroom, hung with portraits of American show business royalty, provided his sets that night with an especially apt nostalgic ambience. Some members of the audience even dressed in period costumes.

A few days before Morton’s shows, I spoke with him on the phone, as well as with Michael Barra, the founder and president of Stageworks Media, which presented the Players Club event.

Stageworks is a brand-new endeavor for Barra—founded only last September. Previously Barra worked in intellectual property licensing for producer Darryl Roth, and before that for Disney Theatricals. The new venture was begun, he told me, to “try to develop live properties that could be a launching point for other media.”

The Morton evening, produced in conjunction with Jacob Langfelder, is the first in what Barra hopes will become a regular series: “Live at Gramercy Park.” “We have a long list of [Langfelder’s] contacts who are willing to do a similar type of event,” he said. While programs in the Players Club series will appear once every month to begin with, they will likely become more frequent if the series catches fire.

It’s not only live audiences in Manhattan that will have the opportunity to enjoy the Players Club performances. At Morton’s two shows, video cameras captured his act with international distribution in mind. Barra noted that Stageworks has been in discussions with a Brazil-based performing-arts subscription provider that is now expanding into streaming and video-on-demand services. “They’ve been accumulating performing arts content around the world, and they’re just starting to get into English-language [content] in the U.K.,” he added.

Now, he explained, the company is ready to explore the idea of U.S.-based content, and Stageworks is helping to provide introductions to Broadway producers with an eye on larger-scale capture. “But we wanted to start with a toe in the water, and so we’re partnering on doing this series.”

Stageworks is also now part owner of the long-running immersive play Speakeasy Dollhouse, which is performed on the Lower East Side. Morton and the Syncopators were musical guests at three performances of Dollhouse last fall, which is how they became acquainted with Stage Works. Noted Barra: “Euan…got into full character and was so incredible that we wanted to figure out how we could extend him or do something else with him.”

Scottish-born Morton met trombonist Matt (“Grandpa”) Musselman through his pianist, Bryan Reeder, who is also one of the Syncopators. Morton had long wanted to sing with a brass-based combo, and—coincidentally— had taken a cross-country road trip in 2012 in which he’d followed the path of Dust Bowl refugees west along Route 66. “I drove through these little towns, and it just got me interested in that particular period of America and what the Dust Bowl must have been like…. I started listening to the music of the period whilst I was making the journey.”

In his show, Morton re-creates his 21st–century road trip, but fancifully makes himself a Depression-era narrator. Morton had “a blast” performing the show at 54 Below, although he was not certain at the time how it would be received:

“For the first time, really, it was something I wanted to do irrespective of whether people would enjoy it….  I wasn’t performing with that ‘like me, like me’ attitude that can sometimes get in the way…. This time around I hadn’t performed in New York in three years and …what mattered to me was that I was doing something I enjoyed. I was a little nervous that people were gonna go, ‘Please, just sing “Hallelujah” and do pop songs’—Michael Bublé nonsense. And they didn’t.”

His set list was slightly different at the Players Club from what it had been at 54 Below—for one thing, the December show had included a Christmas component. And his script became a little tighter at Gramercy Park—in part because he needed to maintain the 1930s road-trip conceit for the video cameras. “Sometimes I go off on tangents,” he explained. “And it’s very hard to stay in period if you go off on tangents.” In any case, he enjoyed the idea of being a “beagle” for Stage Works: of being the first act in the “Live from Gramercy Park” series.

I asked whether there were plans for an audio recording with the Musselman band. Morton noted that making a recording has become more financially risky now than even a few years ago, when he made his last CD. He admitted he would be nervous about putting his own money into an album of songs right now.

“I recorded off the board from 54 Below just to see what it would sound like,” he added. “It’s not the world’s best recording, so I’m not thinking of releasing it live. It’s not up to the standard I would like it to be. But it’s definitely something I would love to do in the future.”

Whether or not a CD happens, Morton is certain there will be further collaborations with Musselman and the Syncopators outside of the recording studio:

“It would be great to take this road-trip project on a road trip!” he said.


About the Author

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in and, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.

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