Euan Morton always knew he'd been born with a voice that people wanted to listen to. But for years, he overlooked his gift, like an unwanted Christmas present buried in the back of the attic.
It was only much later that Morton began to appreciate his supple tenor and the fine things it could bring him, such as a nomination for a Tony Award for creating the role of the young Boy George in the 2003 musical "Taboo."
This weekend, Morton's voice is bringing him to Baltimore to headline Center Stage's new cabaret series.
The concerts, which began in October, allow theatergoers to enjoy top national talent in an intimate nightclub setting. Chanteuse Judy Kaye inaugurated the series; Morton will be followed by E. Faye Butler in February and Tracie Thoms in April.
"As a kid, I was part of a local children's theater," says the 32-year-old Morton, who grew up in the small Scottish town of Bo'ness. "Singing at that point didn't seem very difficult. I just didn't think it was as challenging as acting."
It's fair to say that Morton has changed his mind. The performer chatted by phone recently about his tastes in theater, which range from cutting-edge to classics, and about the joys and hardships of a life on stage.
Question: What are you planning on singing?
Answer: I did a gala for Center Stage last year, and I had so much fun, I wanted to come back.
They've kind of requested that I do some of Boy George's songs from "Taboo." I think audiences want to hear music they know. I'll do "Hallelujah" from my new album, and some Scottish songs. I also have a real affinity for the music I grew up with - the Mamas and the Papas, Karen Carpenter, Joni Mitchell. And I may do Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing."
Q: You have an incredible range, from musicals to cutting-edge contemporary dramas, to such classics as "Cyrano de Bergerac." Do you have a dream role?
A:I love to do different things that challenge me intellectually and emotionally. Right now, I'm working on a musical about the life of the Roman emperor Caligula. It's in the workshop stage, and I play Caligula.
But I suppose if there was one character that I'd most like to play, it would be Iago, the villain from "Othello." The most wonderful part of the theater for me isn't the applause, but the chance to be other people, to experience all those dangerous emotions from the safety of the stage.
Q: So why the attitude about singing?
A:: That's way in the past. It wasn't that I didn't like musicals as a kid. I did, but I didn't find them as exciting as the plays of Harold Pinter or Sam Shepard. Besides, singing was something my mother wanted me to do. And everything she wanted me to do, I fought against.
Once I really had a chance to learn how to use my voice properly and enjoy it, everything changed. Now, I can't even watch performances I did as a kid, and it's not just the usual cringing-away stuff. I really want to die. To see what I thought singing was then, and how easily I brushed it off without really knowing anything, is embarrassing. Does that make sense?
Q: I'd imagine that singing has expanded your employment options. Both your vocal and performing skills have been consistently praised by the critics.
A:: I like to go back and forth between concerts and the theater. I can't think of a cabaret union that offers health care. So if I don't do my 12 to 20 weeks in the theater every year, I can't get health insurance through Actors' Equity - and last year, my appendix ruptured.
Luckily, I was covered then. Right now, I'm not covered. I'm sure there are so many people in this country who like me are thinking, "Universal health insurance is coming. Hold on until then." That hope is all we have.
If you go Euan Morton performs this weekend at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Show times: 7 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $30-$35. Call 410-332-0033 or go to www.centerstage.org.