Despite living mostly in New York, Euan Morton is becoming a regular fixture on the Washington stage. The Scottish actor, nominated for a Tony in 2004 for his lead role in the musical Taboo, appears in Ford’s Theatre and Theater J’s production of Parade this month, following his role in Chess at Signature Theatre last year, as well as performing in Barbara Cook’s Spotlight series at the Kennedy Center October 28. Here’s a conversation with Morton.
Tell us about Parade.
It’s based on a true story—in 1913, a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Leo Frank, was arrested and found guilty of the murder of a 13-year-old factory worker. Nobody really knows what actually happened, so it’s a complicated whodunnit, but underneath it all there’s a love story between Frank and his wife. As his life descends into this hellish nightmare, his marriage actually starts to strengthen.
What kind of research did you do for the role?
It actually coincided with a road trip I was doing to promote my new album, which started in Georgia. I took myself off to the Atlanta Jewish Foundation and visited the research analyst there who’s an expert on the case. They had a bunch of his personal things, so I was able to research the man using his diary, and his letters, and his photos. I also went to Ithaca in New York, because Frank trained at Cornell in mechanical engineering. Not only is it a fascinating subject, but it’s a fascinating period in American history.
What are the challenges of a role like this?
I think it’s quite an odd subject for a musical—It doesn’t have a happy ending, and there aren’t that many happy moments in the show. People expect musicals to be fun and fluffy, and this isn’t. As an actor, it can be quite challenging to maintain your emotional equilibrium when you come into work every day and you’re arrested for murder. And on top of that there’s a song and dance number in the show, and I’m not the world’s best dancer, so I’m having to put a lot of extra hours into the routine.
What brought you to Washington?
It was fairly accidental. I've been in New York for eight years but I also have a home down here to run away to when things get too stressful. In the last few years I've become fairly good friends with Eric Schaeffer, so when his production of Chess was coming up last October at Signature Theatre, I put myself out there and asked him to audition me, and it worked. Parade isn't the last thing I'll be doing in DC—when it's finished I'm moving on to Shakespeare Theatre Company to play Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona, which is going back to my classical acting roots. DC has been very good to me.
What are the differences between here and New York?
The levels of performance are very similar, and the relationship that casting directors and producers and musicians have with their art is the same. What one notices here is that the talent pool is smaller, which is wonderful if you live here, because if you're good, you have a chance to work constantly. I know people in DC who work all the time. But I imagine it can get a little stifling.
You're also performing in Barbara Cook's Spotlight series on October 28th.
I am. It's early in the process. Usually when I do my concerts I'm a little more freeform, and I say what comes into my mind and then sing a song, and sometimes it's funny, and sometimes it's touching, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But for this I want to be a little more focused, so I'm working on it now with my musical director up in New York.
After eight years, how do you stay true to your Scottish roots?
It's funny for me as a Scotsman—I come here and literally everyone I meet says, "Oh my God, I'm Scottish, I have Scottish roots, and my family is from there." The number of people here who have a patriotism for Scotland here is fascinating, and it invited me to rediscover Scotland for myself. I learned to be far more Scottish in America than I ever was before.
Euan Morton stars in Parade at Ford's Theatre, September 23 through October 30 ($28 to $60). 511 10th St., NW; 202-347-4833; fords.org. He also appears in Barbara Cook's Spotlight series at the Kennedy Center October 28th ($45). 202-467-4600.