Montego Glover in 'Memphis'
I remember thinking 'This is the guy!' Glover says of Chad Kimball.
Hometown: Born in Macon, Georgia, Glover moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a baby when her dad became a student of the University of Tennessee. “It’s the scenic city of the south,” she declares. “It’s beautiful—hilly and green. A great place to grow up.”
Currently: Raising the roof of Broadway’s Shubert Theatre as Felicia Farrell, a 1950s R&B singer who falls hard for a white DJ in Memphis.
Cool for School: Singing in church choirs “for as long as I can remember,” Glover discovered theater when she became a charter student at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences at age 12. “I was watching ballet on public television and it rolled into a news program about the new school,” she remembers. “I sat and listened and thought, ‘That’s exactly where I want to go.’” After auditioning, she was chosen to be one of 100 students in the progressive school, which incorporated the Paideia teaching method based on the writings of Socrates. Although she was also active in science and math (and excelled as a sprinter in track), Glover’s main focus was theater. “The program encouraged us to take classics and rework them. My first show was Beauty and the Beast, our reimagining of it. We used movement, sound effects… we made our own costumes and sets. It was great; very grass-roots, very communal.”
Next Stop, EPCOT: Musical theater began to creep onto Glover’s resume once she headed to college at Florida State University in Tallahassee, with roles in shows like Merrily We Roll Along and Into the Woods sharing the bill with classics like the title role in Antigone. After graduation, the young actress didn’t jump on the first bus to New York City, deciding that she had to be “spiritually, emotionally and financially ready” for such a big move. Instead, she took an acting job in Japan and worked regionally, eventually landing a three-year stint at Walt Disney World in Orlando: “I opened the Animal Kingdom and starred in their Lion King show as Nala. I also sang at Epcot in a show called American Vibe as one of eight a cappella voices. Disney was the perfect job for that point in my life.”
Mutual Attraction: Glover finally arrived in New York City in 2001 and quickly started working in readings, workshops and regional gigs. Memphis first entered her life two years later, when she auditioned for the show’s premiere production at the now-closed North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts. She landed the role and started her long journey to Broadway, always alongside leading man Chad Kimball. Glover says she felt a connection with Kimball, one of four possible co-stars she read opposite, from hello: “The casting director said to me, ‘This is Chad Kimball. Here’s a scene. I’ll call you guys back into the room in a few minutes to read it.’ So we found a hall and looked at the scene, which just happened to be a kissing scene. We read it, he kissed me, I kissed him and we pulled away. I looked in his face and just kind of said, ‘Hi!’ and he said, ‘Hi’ and I remember thinking, ‘This is the guy!’”
Head of the Class: Although she’s played leading roles on Broadway (covering Celie in The Color Purple) and around the country (including multiple turns as the titular role in Aida and a run as Ti Moune in Once on This Island, earning a Helen Hayes Award nomination), opening in a leading role in a big new Broadway musical like Memphis has its perks. One such bonus is the show’s sexy ad campaign, built around a photo of Glover and Kimball that is now wrapped two-stories high around the Shubert Theatre. “It’s a very large head,” Glover laughs. “The day it went up, I happened to be passing by. It caught my eye and I just gasped! I stood across 44th Street, under the awning of Sardi’s and stared at it and thought, ‘This is so bizarre.’”
Family Reunion: Although they avoided getting bit by the show-biz bug themselves, Glover’s large extended Southern family is enjoying watching her Broadway rise: “They like to be able to turn on the Today show and say, ‘That’s my niece!’ or see a TV commercial… ‘That’s my daughter!’” In fact, many of her family members were in the house on opening night of Memphis to cheer her on. “They’re so proud,” Glover beams. “There’s nothing better than a proud Southern grandma. Nothing better than seeing her at my opening night table just sitting and grinning. It’s just the best!”