Jeremy Morse brings down the house as an understudy for Ogie in Waitress the Musical. When he’s not on as Ogie, Jeremy is part of the talented ensemble. Broadway Wiz chatted with him about playing violin, musical theater, what it’s like to be making his Broadway debut, and much more.
You started with musical theater at a young age. What was the first show you saw, and what inspired you to start performing?
Man. Okay, the first Broadway show I saw was Chicago with Billy Zane as Billy Flynn. It was so cool seeing the show. It’s so funny that my first Broadway show was pretty big people. The first show I saw, I think it was a production of Camelot. I forget who was starring. It was up in Connecticut. I remember seeing it and it was so awesome. I recall the actor in the show — there were two women speaking like full volume in the back of the house and he stopped the show and scolded the women for speaking at full volume. Anyway, that wasn’t the reason why I got into theater.
What was the reason you got into theater?
My first love was music. I just love —
You play the violin?
I play the violin. I also love singing. Choir was a huge influence. I loved singing in choir, so yes. That’s what got me into theater and also this this theater called Upper Darby Summer Stage — I grew up doing that theater every summer. It’s kind of like pay‑to‑play thing. It’s kind of summer camp. They do like six kid shows during the day, and you rehearse for three weeks. And then you have like a week of performances, Wednesday through Saturday, and then you are done. But I remember my first show with them was a production of Once On This Island where I remember playing a tree. I made so many awesome friends and I remember I started getting into theater at that age. The summer after sixth grade is when I did that. I did Once On This Island and I did a show called I think The 2000 Kids Sing The Century and it was just a review. Like they did two songs from every decade.
That is so cool.
Was so cool ringing in 2000, the new millennium.
At what age did you start playing the violin, and what made you choose that instrument?
Violin — oh, my God. I remember this so specifically. It’s just such an awesome question. Mr. Peters, my music teacher, who was a big reason why I fell in love with music at my elementary school, Chatham Park Elementary — go Bulldogs. I love music and they always made class super fun and they had these tests where you listened to different pitches that you like, different qualities of tone to help match you to what instrument you should play. I remember I got matched up with violin and flute, and I remember I was like oh, I want to play the flute, and someone is like, “your lips aren’t formed in the most optimal way to play flutes.” I am like, “okay, I will play violin.” Someone told me that. And yes, I started playing violin and I started taking private lessons with this lady. Her name was Palmer Loux, and I ended up being close friends with two of her sons, Adam and Brady, who were in the same year as me.
Twins, yes. Big family though. Five. Five kids.
How old were you when you started that?
That’s cool. Can you recall the first standout performance that you wanted to do this and funniest mishap on stage?
Standout performance. Oh, I got to dig deep. I don’t know. Not pulling up anything. Oh, lie. Total lie. I did How To Succeed In Business with — I did it at Upper Darby Summer Stage. Marcus Stevens played Bud Frump in that production. I was in the ensemble. I played one of the businessmen.
I am obsessed with that show.
I love that show so much.
I saw the last Broadway production a billion times.
Actually, I didn’t see it. I went to Lincoln Center. I watched it on tape though. But Marcus as Bud Frump was so amazing, and he is such a genius comedic actor, and I watched him create all these hilarious beats and it made me really sink my teeth into comedy. So he was actually a huge inspiration and it’s funny, I don’t talk about that that much but that performance was utterly amazing. Like to this day. Physical comedy.
So you like doing comedic roles?
Yes. I love doing comedy. But yes, that was standout performance, and then if we are talking Broadway standout performance — this is kind of embarrassing because I am working with the guy, but Igor in Young Frankenstein, Chris Fitzgerald, who was doing that — another standout comedic performance. Took these scenes and made them his own, and I got to watch him do that through this process and also each and every night keeps it fresh and changes up things.
Ogie is the funniest role in the show [Waitress] and you get to understudy it.
Yes and I love the role so —
But you created it in the workshop?
Actually, he [Chris Fitzgerald] has done the workshops over the past however many years. He has done several workshops in developing the show and he was unavailable for ART, so I stepped in for ART and had an amazing time coming up with my own bits and doing the show there and developing the show with the creative team there.
And now you can understudy.
Yes, and I have been fortunate to go on a decent amount. Which is like super, super fun and always makes me so happy.
It looks like a fun role. It’s the funniest part of the show.
It’s like definitely an amazing, fun —
And Kimiko [Glenn]. I mean, I didn’t see Jenna [Ushkowitz] in the role yet, but you guys are hysterical.
Yes. We have a lot of fun.
When did you find out you were cast in Waitress?
My girlfriend and I were actually working 14‑hour catering jobs in Central Park for the Chase 5K last summer and I had an audition for Waitress at ART for the role of Ogie and I had plenty of notice, so I was prepping like crazy. I had to find somebody to cover for me for three hours. So I got my friend Michael Linden to cover for me for three hours in Central Park. And I went, I auditioned, I went in the room and I just did the material once. They were laughing. It went well. I messed up a couple of words. It wasn’t a big deal, but then they said — Diane [Paulus] was like, “thank you so much, great job,” and usually in an audition that means like, >great, but no, thank you So I was like, okay, all right, great, going back to catering. And I went out into the lobby of Telsey or the big holding area, the old Telsey studios, and packed my bag. And Bernie [Telsey] came out and said, “wait, wait, wait, can you stay. We want to sing you a little more and just like go do the side one more time” and I am like, “I have to go to Central Park. I have to be there in like an hour so I can’t really wait out too long” and he is like, “what are you doing, proposing?” I am like, “no, I am catering.” “All right, we will get you in, we will get you right back in.” So I went back in. Diane gave me a quick little adjustment and I did the scene, we had a good time. I sang “I Chose Right” from Baby as a song. Just parts and was done, went back to catering, and I got the call the next morning.
Yes. It was pretty crazy and I was supposed to start the off‑Broadway production of Theatreworks USA Skippyjon Jones Snow What.
That sounds funny.
Yes. It was the story of Snow White but Skippyjon Jones, so lots of Spanish in there. It was fun. I got to do the workshop with that and the developmental process of that show. So it sucked to not be able to do that but — I had to do Waitress.
Sara Bareilles is amazing.
What’s it like working with her?
Oh, she is awesome. She is literally always the coolest person in the room. Oh, you are the coolest person in the room, how nice. But she is so sweet and an amazing collaborator. Super smart. She is always throwing her hat into the ring for like, comedic decisions, and everyone collaborated such an awesome way. She is just awesome.
Did you have to re-audition for Broadway?
No, I did not. Which leads into the next time I found out. I had a week off after ART and then I did a production of Into The Woods at North Carolina Theatre.
Who did you play?
Jack, I checked it off my list before I turn too old and gray with salt‑and‑pepper hair.
It’s awesome though.
Thanks. I love it, but I have been dying my hair for the past five years so I can play Barnaby, and my hair was dyed at that point so I played Jack. But —
They don’t make you dye it for Waitress?
No. Everybody asks, do you want me to do it? No, it’s not a big deal. Ogie is 32. You can be however old you want in the ensemble. It doesn’t make a difference.
That is cool. But we were in rehearsal for —
— Into The Woods?
Yes. Like day 3 and we were supposed to find out — they are having meetings about casting and I am like, oh, I want to know just for sure is this happening or is it not, and then I got a call from my manager, and then a call from Barry: “hey, we want to offer you ensemble/Ogie understudy.” And I was like, “sign me up!”
And this is your first Broadway show?
Broadway debut, yes
What was that like?
It was really cool. Also, I am making my debut with my good friend Molly Hager. We have known each other through Joe Iconis and other New York stuff, but primarily doing concerts with Joe. I have known her for six, seven years now, and when she auditioned for the Broadway company and for the lab which we did in December, I worked on some of the side with her. We would go to bars and get a beer and just work on the sides at the bar, and it was so much fun, and she was so good and I am like, “you are going to get this,” and she got it and then she called me. I got the call when she was on the 1 train downtown. She is like “I got it!” and I am like “yes!” Oh my God, it was really cool, and there were moments that felt surreal. A lot of it just felt like doing a show just like in New York. Like many pedestrian moments about it, which was also interesting as well. You think everything is going to be gorgeous and amazing and so much of it is and —
You are just a typical person?
Yes. You are just going to work and going to a special amazing place, getting to do what was a dream of mine, what I would love, what I want to do. But getting into the theater for the first time was just so cool, and then our first dress rehearsal and first preview were incredibly exciting to perform for a Broadway house and opening night was just electric and getting to do Ogie for the first time
When did you get to do Ogie for the first time?
It was my 30th birthday, July 19th.
Great birthday present
It was, and Chris put in his contract two weeks’ vacation. It was planned with his family and I remember asking him “what two weeks?” “July 19th through the end of the month” and I am like, my 30th birthday, oh my God! So it was a stressful 30th birthday because it’s been almost a year, or rather, ten months since I had done Ogie.
But you got to watch Chris do it though?
Yes, and also I had a cool experience where in the longer running shows you can swing out of the ensemble to watch the show. So I requested to do that before I went on and I got to swing out and watch the show, and on a day where we were selling at 100 percent for quite some time.
You are not anymore?
It’s been 90 percent. September is tough. That’s what I keep hearing but yes, we are still selling well, knock on wood.
That’s good because some shows — a lot of them closed this season. It was really upsetting.
It was tough.
There is standing room now?
That’s where people like the swings watch from. Either like up in the mezz or when I am on as Ogie, I like to watch the top of the show or the first 15, 20 minutes from the back of the house.
It’s cool that you can do that.
Yes and I did that every show up at ART. Drew Gehling and I would watch the opening number and then we would go and do our separate things to get ready for the show.
What’s your favorite part about being in Waitress?
Favorite part about being in Waitress? There is a lot. But honestly, I think what I fell in love with from the start was Sara’s music. It’s just so good and it’s like — yes. She is so good at writing a hook from being a pop writer, but then she is also so good at storytelling and I was so attracted to the way she tells stories with her music.
I also liked her cellphone song at the start of the show.
Oh my God. When we heard that, we all lost our shit. We were dying of laughter.
It’s a really good idea. I think more shows should have something like that.
Sometimes announcements will be done by a character. That’s always more fun. I remember I recorded Oliver in Paper Mill. They asked me as my character, Noah Claypool, small character in the show, to record the announcement and I did that, but they are always more effective in the world of the show. I think I remember Spamalot having a really cool one.
Even though they make these announcements, phones still go off at a show.
>Oh, I know. We are always aware. And never in a part where it’s covered up. It’s always an inconvenience. A very quiet moment or —
— very serious moment.
Yes, very serious moment.
What’s it like having the band on stage in Waitress, and do you feel it adds to the show?
It totally adds more and we all have so much fun with the band on stage. We are always looking for moments to interact with them or look at them or talk to them. I have a moment with Meg, (Meg Toohey who plays guitar) in a guitar track in the show where she sits down. She has been staged to sit in one of the booths and we sit back and I will strike up a conversation “oh, hey, how is it going” and I always bring a treat for her. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or Hershey’s Kiss or sometimes Geoff who runs our automation — he is an amazing baker, so I bring his cookies to her. They [the band] are amazing. They add to the show so much. The music is such an integral part of the show.
The clapping when you guys do the clapping —
Oh, yeah. I love that clapping. I remember up on ART when I was doing Ogie after “Never Getting Rid Of Me,” I would change out of my Ogie shirt and change into whatever I wore to the theater that day and sneak onto the band area, which was more secluded and stationary at ART. I would sit among everybody and clap and do the ahs which was so much fun. Sara sometimes would sneak in with us.
It looks like so much fun.
Yes. The claps were awesome.
It looks like they are having fun the whole time.
We are. It’s just a blast. We all love each other so that helps.
What’s the biggest challenge about being an understudy, and the best thing about being in Waitress?
I am kind of coming from a bit of a unique perspective of a situation where I played the role, and I mean, it’s kind of scary trying to — well, not scary, but the challenge is fitting into the structure of the show that somebody created. I have been given a little leeway comedic‑wise, somebody with my own beats to make it my own, and to take some of the stuff that I did in ART which was successful and fit it into this structure which is appropriate, but also Chris comes up with amazing beats, so I am trying to pay homage to all of that, as well as put my own stamp on it.
Every time you say his name I laugh, because at the Tony Awards when they announced Michael Arden’s name and instead they went to Chris on camera, his face was so funny. He is like no, not me
There is a picture of Chris from the Tony’s in his dressing room which says Michael Arden.
Every time someone says his name, that’s what I think of. His reaction when the camera went on to him.
That’s what he told me because the cameras are like, up. He kept going to the cameras, “no, not me”.
He was telling them beforehand that he wasn’t Michael Arden?
Yes, but he couldn’t really communicate it, because he wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but those cameras — they come pretty close to get that type of shot, so they were literally this far away from him and by the time he realized what was happening, he is like oh, shit. And then it’s just –they cut to him even though he knew it was happening, “no, not me.”
People got really mad at the Tony Awards for the mistake, but I thought his reaction was really funny.
He handled it well, yes. He crushed his comedic reaction. He is very good at that.
The understudy question, yes, I talked about the challenges. The upside to it, I mean, it’s really exciting when you get to go on.
That’s true, but you are always on.
I have been so fortunate. I have been on a lot and I get to go on next week for four shows as well. Tuesday through Thursday, and yes.
Who do you want to work with in the future?
Who do I want to work with in the future? I want to work with Alex Timbers. I love what he has done. I love Peter and the Starcatcher. He is working–
Peter and The Starcatcher was in your theater.
Yes, I remember. I saw that towards the end of the run and I saw four understudies go on and everyone was so amazing. You can tell everyone in the show was so excited.
Joy: I sometimes prefer seeing understudies, because I feel they add more to the show.
Serena: When we saw Waitress, Charity [Angél Dawson] was on as Becky for her first time.
Oh, you saw Charity go on? Oh, I love her. I remember that happening very suddenly. She didn’t have a put in yet either. So in person she was like “oh my God.”
Joy: We were talking to her afterwards, and to the guy from Gilmore Girls.
Dakin Matthews, who was in everything.
But that’s where I know him from.
He is literally in everything, just IMDb him and his list of credits.
But he is so cool and he is on Broadway. He does Broadway, movies, TV.
He is also literally like the best — he knows so much about Shakespeare. He is a huge Shakespeare buff. For my birthday he gave me his book analyzing Shakespeare and it’s like 450 pages. Like 8 and a half by 11, tiny writing. It will take me a year to read it and then probably five years to understand it, but it makes me want to dive into it, and he is an amazing resource too.
If you could be in a different Broadway show right now, what would it be?
Different Broadway show right now? It’s tough. I mean, I always want to play Boq in Wicked.
That’s a fun role.
Yes but I don’t know. I mean, I loving being in Waitress right now. Coming up, Barnaby in Hello, Dolly! maybe. I already played the role twice regionally, but the show is so beautiful and has such a huge heart and I love the music. That is a show I would love to be in.
Thank you to Jeremy for taking time to chat with us! Go see him in Waitress the Musical, currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Interview by Joy & Serena / Transcribed by Yaffi / Photographs by James