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the scotsman 18 jan 2004

Euan and George
Role-swap: The real Boy George, right, with Falkirk’s Euan Morton, who plays the pop star on stage.

Breaking the final Taboo

Zoe Martin

WHEN The curtain finally falls on Boy George’s musical Taboo on Broadway, the show’s Scottish star Euan Morton will be both sad and relieved. "In a twisted way it’s been a blessing in disguise. I’ve been playing George for a very long time."

Taboo, written by Boy George, opened in the UK in 2002. Loosely based on George’s own life, it dealt with love, drugs, homophobia and HIV, all played out against a glittering New Romantic backdrop. Fans and critics loved it - and so did American chat show host and film star Rosie O’Donnell when she saw it in London. So much so, she invested $10m (£5.5m) to take the show to the US.

However, O’Donnell hadn’t banked on a very public legal battle with Gruner & Jahr USA over her defunct magazine, Rosie. Most newspapers, taking a negative stance against her, lapped up rumours that Taboo was falling apart before it had even begun. When the show opened on November 13 last year, critics savaged it.

Taboo should have made more of a difference... once it’s gone they’ll realise. Morton, who played Boy George in both the London and Broadway production, thinks the reviews were "very personal - about Rosie or about the right of homosexuality to be shown on stage. It has been a rollercoaster. Up, down, up, down."

But with every bad review, the cast united and worked harder for the next show. Morton says: "Rosie has been wonderful. She did no more than anyone would who had invested $10m into a show."

But he does believe pricing tickets at $100 (£55) a seat meant people were less willing to risk a show with such mixed reviews.

Others blamed its lack of success on the changes O’Donnell implemented when she brought the show over. Morton admits the Broadway Taboo is "very different" from the UK one. "It has taken another direction. Become more realistic and taken out the heterosexual romance, the mum, the dad. It deals more about questions of fame and mortality. In fact, I think the message is clearer in this version."

Perhaps Morton is so supportive because it meant he got to play a new version of a character he had been playing for almost two years. Morton has been the one consistent strength in Taboo; even reviewers who were negative about the show praised his performance and voice. The original role in London earned him an Olivier Award nomination and in New York he has been tipped to win a Tony nod.

But Morton takes all the praise "with a pinch of salt". "Things can go as quickly as they come. On February 9, I’m out of work. One minute flavour of the month, next back to being a starving out-of-work actor."

However, it is unlikely Morton, 26, will be out of work for long. Determined and focused, he always knew what he wanted to do. "It was my dream as a kid. I was in every school play as well as Falkirk Children’s Theatre. I always had an outlet."

He fondly recalls his first foray into musicals being a show about a snowman in which he had to throw pieces of paper as pretend snow. Realising he would have to leave Falkirk to pursue his dream, Morton moved to London when he was 17 to study at Mountview Theatre School. "Once I got there, everything changed. I had wanted to be a singer, to do musical theatre. But I realised I knew very little about the craft of acting. So I pulled out of musical theatre. I learnt so much about myself there."

Although Taboo has been his biggest career break, he was most excited about his first ever television appearance, as a 19-year-old crack dealer in London’s Burning. Morton jokes he has played nothing but 19-year-old heroin addicts since he left college - including his Boy George character.

In a move which has confused some Broadway theatregoers, both Boy George and Morton appear on stage at the same time. George plays the late Leigh Bowery, the flamboyant performance artist who died of Aids in the early 1990s, while Morton plays Boy George. Get that? Many of the American audience didn’t.

"People still think I’m him, even without the wig and make-up. I get people coming up to me and calling me George. One woman came up to say she’d given birth to my music and I tried to tell her that I was only five when she was giving birth."

Morton’s version of Boy George isn’t a particularly flattering representation. Indeed when he was preparing for the role, George didn’t ask Morton to make him look great, just to make him look like he was. "He gave me a lot of freedom," Morton says. "George is such an icon and I look like George so when it came to convincing the audience most of the work was already done. Ultimately I thought I had the easier role in the piece."

Though excited about what he might do next, Morton is "really sad" about the show ending. "Taboo should have made more of a difference than it has. I think once it’s gone they’ll realise what they’re missing."

In March, Scotland will get a chance to judge for itself when Taboo comes to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre - unfortunately without Morton, who is now resident in New York. "Taboo has changed my life, allowed me to do things that I could have never done, afforded me so many opportunities. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Boy George. I have been very lucky; my life will never be the same again."

Taboo, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000), March 1-6

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