This fall, the Manhattan School of Music will be producing the work of one of its Musical Theatre students for the first time in its 100-year history. That student is Tappan Zee High School alumnus Jarrett Winters Morley (‘16), a senior in MSM’s Musical Theatre Conservatory. His original musical, Morningside, takes the stage on November 21 at the Ades Performance Space.
Morley wrote the book, music and lyrics for Morningside, which tells the story of Maximilian Earl, a returning soldier struggling with wartime memories as his life and business spiral out of control in 1940’s New York City. The project began in a summer program before Morley’s senior year of high school. “I was assigned to put King Lear in a modern context,” he says. “And I liked the idea I came up with so much that I just kept going. Computers weren’t allowed at camp, so I wrote that entire first draft by hand.”
Morley credits South Orangetown’s Music Department with providing the motivation and encouragement to create. “I was always encouraged to be creative and to think outside the box,” he reflects. “I was always wanted to overachieve and presentations were my favorite, because it was a chance to show off a little and have fun.”
Once he reached high school, Morley says that he sought out courses and extracurriculars that would help him advance toward his goals. “I grew up playing piano and percussion, and teaching myself other instruments along the way. But by the time I reached high school, I wanted to write my own material. There was a Music Theory class and an AP Music Theory class. Sometimes, I wrote extra parts for orchestra or band, and these were great experiences for me to get a feel for what type of music I liked to write and how to do it,” he recalls. “I conducted groups with Dr. Wagoner [as part of the Choral Conducting course] and Mr. Rossi and recorded an arrangement of songs that I’d written with Mr. Hughes. These were rare experiences that I don’t think I would have been encouraged to pursue in any other school district.”
Morley became SAG-AFTRA eligible at age 17, while working on The Meyerowitz Stories with Ben Stiller. This past summer, he was busy with television work, including parts on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mr. Robot, Pose, and SVU: Law & Order. He plans to turn in his dues after graduation in the spring to become a SAG-AFTRA actor and do more television and film work while auditioning for the theater.
As for advice for current TZHS students, Morley pauses. “Never become discouraged. Know that there will be bumps and challenges along the way, but the end result will be beyond all your expectations,” he states. “During my time in SOCSD, it was very hard for me to get other students to do projects with me–and that’s no fault of theirs or the schools. They had other things in which they were interested–relationships, sports, concerts–and no one wanted to make a short film or write a short play. I often ended up doing a lot of these things alone,” he explains. “Part of the reason I chose to go to Manhattan School of Music was to be surrounded by artists and not just musical theatre artists–opera students, orchestral students, composition students, creative people. I remember my first day, waking up in the dorm and hearing a clarinetist rehearsing in their room. Everything felt perfect.”
Morningside premieres November 21 at 7:30PM in the Ades Performance Space, Manhattan School of Music, 130 Claremont Avenue, New York, NY. Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance here.
SOCSD’s #ProudTZGrad campaign highlights recent Tappan Zee High School alumni who are excelling in an area that is directly connected to their academic and/or school-based extracurricular pursuits at TZHS.
Photo caption: Morley conducts the first pit rehearsal for his musical, Morningside.