The 2009-2010 season in theater was a whirlwind for Montego Glover. After scoring her first lead role on Broadway as Felicia Farrell in Memphis, she went on to be nominated for every theater award in New York.
She won the Drama Desk for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical. Memphis is the story of Huey Calhoun, a white radio DJ whose love of good music transcends race lines and airwaves in the 1950s.
Thanks in part to his persistence, “race” music reaches the center of the radio dial, quickly exploding throughout mainstream America.
But when Huey falls for Glover’s beautiful black singer, whom he has set on the path to stardom, the world is put to the test over their love.
Glover’s gripping performance in the show helped it to win four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Broadway’s most talented leading lady took some time to chat with TheImproper about her exciting year, and the road that led to it.
Improper: What is your earliest memory of yourself as a performer?
Glover: I think my earliest memories are around age 12, I was in the 7th grade, and I had started studying acting at my school. I had a really amazing school, it had a strong emphasis on art and science. As a student at this school, which was actually the first of its kind in my region, you could choose a discipline, and I chose acting. And so it began!
IM: In which middle school productions did you perform?
Glover: We didn’t do your sort of traditional fare at this school. We were all very high-minded students. We turned novels into one act plays, or we did absurd theater. I did Beauty and the Beast¸ which we just lifted from the novel and concentrated and highlighted the basic storytelling with a lot of interesting theatrical elements. We did an absurdist play called, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet, and It’s Getting So Sad. That was really the name of it! Those are the kinds of things we were getting into.
IM: Were you that kid running around the Thanksgiving table performing for everyone?
Glover: It’s funny, because I remember always entertaining myself around home with song, or not being afraid to hum a tune in the house, or work out a really awesome dance move. I don’t remember necessarily entertaining my family so much!
IM: You have such an eclectic background, and such a variegated resume. You seem to take as much pride in the small jobs as you do in the big ones, and that’s so admirable. For example, on your Web site (www.MontegoGlover.com), you have a nod to the Charmin bears because your voice is featured in their commercials!
Glover: That work, like Memphis, allows me to be an actress, but in a totally different way. And it calls on a set of skills and a way of working that I find equally challenging and equally interesting. I respond to it as an artist. It is a very specific skill set, and there is a need for that kind of skill in my line of work. I’m just very lucky as an actress that I get to do different types of work, and that I’m known and respected for doing all of them.
IM: One of your first jobs was with Disney. What did you get to do for them?
Glover: Walt Disney was at a really fertile and exciting time in my life. They were opening the Animal Kingdom in Orlando. It was amazing, it was based completely in nature, and this park was made to celebrate the animal world. The Lion King and Tarzan shows were opening and they needed actors and vocalists for those shows. I got to be involved in original companies of both. To really create roles, the soundscape, the look and the feel of both of these shows was great. They were also developing a new a cappella group for Epcot called American Vibe, which I worked on as well. I can’t say how priceless that time was.
IM: Who is a better leading man, Chad Kimball (Huey Calhoun) or Mickey Mouse?
Glover: That’s a tie, maybe. I don’t know. (laughs)
IM: How did you become involved with Memphis?
Glover: Memphis came to me in the form of a phone call from my agent seven years ago. He said to me, “I have a script for a new musical that is getting a reading in New York City. The first developmental production of this is going up at the North Shore Music Theatre. The artistic director of that theater would really like for you to read the role of Lead Girl.” I had worked with this theater twice before with great success. I said, “Of course, send me the script, I’ll read it, I’m sure I’ll be fine with it, and I’ll do the reading of it, of course.” And this thing arrived in the mail called Memphis. I read it, and I went, “Wow! This is special.” I’ve been with it ever since.
IM: David Bryan, Bon Jovi’s keyboardist, wrote the lyrics [with Joe DiPietro] and music in Memphis. Were you a Bon Jovi fan?
Glover: Who isn’t? I mean, it’s thrilling to know that someone in a band that successful with that kind of writing pedigree was interested in writing a musical and had really great and strong ideas.
IM: Everyone loves Felicia because she is such a sassy, career-oriented person with a big heart. It’s easy to see those qualities in you. How much of yourself do you see in her?
Glover: We have a lot in common, so I think that’s at least half of our symbiosis, Felicia and I. She’s a young African American woman from the south, I am that as well. She’s an artist, I’m an artist. She’s a singer, I want to be an actress. I think as women there are a lot of things you have in common. Embracing your femininity, being in love with someone, having your heart broken, and really deciding that you want things in life for yourself.
You want a career for yourself, you want love for yourself, you have something to say, there’s an expressive tone about your being that you have to embrace. She and I have that in common very much. It helps that she’s from Memphis, Tennessee, and I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Being raised in southern culture is something that you don’t necessarily learn, in my opinion. Either you were raised in it and it’s in you on the biological level, or it’s not. I felt very strong kindred with her right away, only because we have so much in common…even if we’re separated by fifty-plus years!
Glover:I think that like any young woman standing on the cusp of her success, there are difficult decisions to be made, there always are. It’s very seldom that it’s a smooth, painless transition. To grow you have to shed some things, which is not always easy to do. I agree with her decision, because I know what it’s like to be a young woman who wants a career, and what it’s like to be a woman who loves someone, and to know that if you can’t have them both you really must choose.
I’ve had to do that, I can’t imagine that there are too many women in the world who haven’t had to do that. But what I love about her decision and her relationship with this man is that they don’t deny that they’ve fallen in love with each other. I think that love changes them for the better, so it’s worth having. Even if you can’t have it all the way to the end of your life, it’s worth having.
IM: Huey Calhoun dresses in a very “unique” fashion…somewhat shlubby and mismatched. Would a classy woman like Felicia ever really find herself in love with a man like that?
Glover:Oh god! (laughs) What I can appreciate about Huey is that it’s a very distinct way of doing it. No one else could do it like Huey does. So many people have told me, “Oh my god, he looks so nuts, and she’s just classic!” That’s love though, you just can’t help it. You can’t help who you love.
That’s one of the very strong arcs in the play. Most people would think, “My god, she’s black, why on earth why would he fall for her?” or vice versa. What the play teaches us is that it just doesn’t matter, if you feel it in your heart, you don’t even have a choice about it. I think that’s very true of Huey to Felicia, and Felicia to Huey. You have to let the clothes go after a while (laughs).
IM: You show so much passion in all of the songs you belt out in Memphis, but is there one that hits home the most for you?
Glover: I think that question has two answers. First, I’ve been with this project from the beginning, so I was there when we found every single beautiful, shiny, golden nugget. All of the songs are my favorites because I remember them when there was no song, or there was no moment there, or we were missing the glue from point A to point B, or B to C.
And I’m just so pleased as an artist that I had a hand in finding those moments, particularly the ones for Felicia. David Bryan and Joe DiPietro are both so very good at what they do, they’re so gracious, and very inclusive and collaborative. They really allowed me to assist them in finding her voice and her texture. It’s a tremendous gift as an artist, because frankly you don’t get creatives who are interested in having actors assist them in the creation.
IM: For you to go from that very first reading to the Tony Awards must have been incredible!
Glover: It was! It was an absolute dream come true, to be sitting there in the middle of all of that knowing how far we had come and how much we had worked, and how much we had believed in this project, and known that it was worth doing. It was a story worth telling. And then, to have that recognized by our theater community here in New York and around the country, and then have it recognized in the biggest night in theater, and seven million people around the country and the world…I mean, you can’t ask for more.
IM: At which moment during the awards season did you have to pinch yourself?
Glover: I think for Memphis there were probably a couple of ‘pinch me’ moments. I think the first was bows at opening night when I realized we had just had an official opening night for Memphis on Broadway, and I was taking my first bow as leading lady. I think the look on my face was shock and awe and tears and screaming! I think the other was sitting in my seat at Radio City Music Hall at the Tony Awards, and hearing the nominees for best performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical being named. Hearing my name called was amazing. I thought, ‘Bebe Neuwirth just said my name in this category with these other outstanding women, and I’m here.’
IM: Speaking of your beautiful name, why were you given it?
Glover: My name is Jamaican. I’m named after Montego Bay. The story goes my parents were not agreeing on a name and I was about two days away from being born. My mother said she saw, by happenstance, a painting of Montego Bay that she thought was so beautiful. She said, “That’s it. That’s my daughter’s name. My daughter’s name is Montego.”
IM: What was it like to perform for the President and the First Lady?
Glover: I had the great honor of travelling to D.C. and singing for them, and they are marvelous. I was thrilled to meet them. I was thrilled to sing a song that I love so much that’s dear to me, from a show that I love so much in their presence, “Colored Woman,” from Memphis. And I was thrilled to be invited by the first lady to come and sing.
IM: You’re going to be featured on the September 28th season premiere of The Good Wife. Do you enjoy doing television work?
Glover: Yay for that! Oh my goodness I love it very much. As an actress, I’m so lucky, I’m so blessed, I get to mix it up. I can work in the theater and then change media, and work on television and change media again and talk about Charmin bath tissue and change media again and voice an animated character for Dora the Explorer. Really mix it up. It’s a great way to work, very different from the theater and instrumental in keeping your skill set sharp as an actor.
IM: What do you find yourself doing in your little down-time?
Glover: I love the outdoors. I escape to the Botanical Gardens. If ever there’s a case where I’m missing, I’m probably in the rose garden. I love to go to parks and sit quietly and read. I love to sit at the library and find a really great old book. And quiet time sometimes is just sitting on my couch and having my journal in my lap and just writing my thoughts. My job is wonderful, but it’s also about being with people 150 percent of the time. It’s wonderful, in all media it’s an intensely collaborative process. But you don’t get a lot of time by yourself, and the more you grow you realize that that’s really valuable, just some time with yourself.
IM:What is the guiltiest pleasure of The Improper’s favorite leading lady?
Glover: I love cream cheese icing so much that I will buy it and eat it with a spoon out of the can! (laughs) That’s a terribly guilty pleasure. I don’t have it often, but boy oh boy, is it good!
IM:Looking to the future, are there any roles that you would just kill to sink your teeth into?
Glover: Felicia Farrell. She is a total dream. Honestly, she gives me everything I’ve ever wanted to do in the theater and then some because I created her. My hands are all over her. So to date, it really is the most amazing role I’ve ever worked on. I’ve gotten to play incredible roles, but she really is a star, a jewel in my crown.
To visit Montego in the hit musical Memphis, head to www.telecharge.com.