NEW YORK— It’s taken six years for Matthew Morrison to get back on Broadway so it’s no surprise he knows a thing or two about where he ended up.
The former “Glee” star happily offered a peek at his storied dressing room in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. This was the theater where “The Sound of Music” was first staged, where Carol Channing starred in “Hello, Dolly!” Elizabeth Taylor had a bath in the back when she was here in 1983.
“I just imagine her welcome guests back in her pearls and everything,” Morrison said, sipping tea. “It has a really deep history this room.”
He hopes to add to the theater’s rich legacy this month as the star of “Finding Neverland,” a new musical about the origin of the Peter Pan story.
“I’ve been dying to get back here for so long,” he said. “This is my Broadway return, and I wanted it to be really special and be so proud of it. Luckily, I am.”
Morrison, 36, plays J.M. Barrie, the “Peter Pan” author, in the adaptation from the 2004 whimsical film of the same name about a widow whose four young sons inspired Barrie to write the children’s classic. In a neat twist, the show is in the same theater that once housed “Peter Pan” in 1979 with Sandy Duncan and again in 1990 with Cathy Rigby.
“There’s nothing more challenging or exciting than doing a brand new Broadway show,” said Morrison. “Challenging or exciting because it doesn’t always work out for the best.”
Morrison had previously starred on Broadway in “Hairspray,” ”South Pacific” and “The Light in the Piazza,” for which he was nominated for a 2005 Tony Award.
His path to Broadway superstar changed when he was lured to California to play choir director Will Schuester on “Glee” for six seasons. His profile rose fast but he was 3,000 miles from Broadway.
The show ended earlier this year and Morrison’s last scene was of him singing “Teach Your Children” by Crosby Stills, Nash & Young in dedication to all his fictional students, many who are in tears by the end of the song.
“It was a beautiful send-off. Everyone was just crying,” he said. “I’m glad it ended how it did. I feel really strongly about the ending. I think the ‘Glee’ fans were really happy with how it ended as well. It kind of wrapped up a lot of things.”
Morrison barely had time to say goodbye to Schuester before it was time to tackle Barrie. The actor grew a beard, learned to speak in a Scottish brogue and prepared his vocal muscles — he belts out 14 songs in the show — by singing while running.
Mia Michaels of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame is the show’s choreographer and knew Morrison as he was coming up the ranks in the theater world. She’s not surprised he threw himself into the part.
“He is such a triple threat. He can dance, he can sing, he can act. But more than anything, he is so open to be molded. He is so open to let go of things he knows and try new things,” she said. “For someone at that moment in their career to be able to be that open and not afraid to fail or not afraid to look silly — to me that is everything.”
While he’s been away from New York, Morrison has seen the profile of Broadway and theater increase, in part due to shows like “Glee” and “Smash.”
“I know a lot of kids are getting into it now and becoming a more popular thing to do,” he said. “People’s understanding of theater has opened up. They’re more accepting to it now and I love that. I love that we’re getting to that place.”
“Finding Neverland,” which is directed by Diane Paulus and co-stars Kelsey Grammer, showcases all of Morrison’s skills — he falls in love, fights Captain Hook, dances with children and jumps in and out of daydreams.
“At the end of the day, I think this story is about imagination,” he said. “It’s really about the power of not being tied down to what you’re given in life, but to create your imagination, create your family — just be creative in every sense of the word.”
Speaking of creative, Morrison and his wife — he married Hawaii-raised model Renee Puente this summer — have already started work on making his dressing room his own.
They’ve added a chandelier she found on eBay and a massive wooden mirror that looks expensive but cost only $200. The walls have been repainted from the green ones he inherited to royal purple. He doesn’t imagine Elizabeth Taylor when he enters the room — only his wife.
“I think of her every time I walk in,” he said.