Broadway Star Montego Glover on ‘Memphis’, Acting Advice and Her Journey to Success

Talent + Education + Drive + Perseverance = Montego Glover, the star of the hit Broadway musical, Memphis!

I think Montego Glover, the star of the hit Broadway show Memphis, can do anything.

Not only is she currently starring on Broadway, but she also displays her talent in video games, commercials, television and voice overs. Ok, a lot of people do that. But do they do it successfully?

Exactly! Seriously, she can do anything.

Currently, she is spending her evenings playing Felecia Farrell, a struggling singer in 1950’s Memphis. She sings, she dances and will break your heart by the end of the show.

I saw Montego when the show was at the La Jolla Playhouse and she was incredible. Once she’s on stage, you can’t take your eyes off of her. She absolutely takes over the stage.

If you get a chance, listen to the audio portion of the interview. You’ll get a chance to hear more questions and listen to her talk.  She has an absolute perfect voice. I could listen to her talk all day.  Listen for a minute, you’ll know what I’m talking about!

I love the actual back story of the show, you and Chad [Kimball] have been with the show for 6 years now I think?

That’s correct.

When you first read the story and heard the music, did you have a feeling about this show?  Obviously there’s no guarantee you’ll end up where you are now.  Did you just have some sort of gut feeling about it?

I did.  I will say my gut feeling however was that this piece was immediately identifiable to me and inclusive of me and that it was special.  I had never read a script like this for Broadway.  And because the concept was new for Broadway and had never been done before and the characters and the location and the ideas were new, it made it all the more interesting.  I responded to it as an artist right away because it was just new and really interesting.  What a great angle from which to tell a story.  And a new story at that.

You guys have such great chemistry, too, you and Chad.  Was that something that happened over time or was it pretty quick?

(She laughs)  I appreciate that, thank you.  It’s helpful every night.  That’s a good thing.

Funny story, actually, we were about to do the first production of Memphis.  First developmental production, and I had been called in to read with some of the guys who were coming in for the roll of Huey Calhoun.  And I remember sitting in the hallway and the casting director came out and said, “Montego this is Chad Kimball.  You guys are going to read together.  Here’s the scene.”  Now, I had not formally met Chad, but we had many, many friends in common and I had seen his work, and he introduced himself, I introduced myself.  We went down the hallway, we read the scene, and it happened to be a scene that involved kissing.  And we read, and we kissed, and it was pretty great.  And we pulled away, and I looked at him, and I said, “Hey.”  And he said, “Hey.”  And I thought, this is the guy.  This is the guy.  And it turns out he was the guy, so we went back into the room (laughs), it went beautifully.  He was charming and it was lovely.  And I just remember the both of us standing there at the end of the read, holding hands and just laughing.  Just laughing.  And we’ve been together ever since (laughing).

What was the opening night of the show like?

Literally a dream come true.  Literally.  How many times as an actor do you read something and go, wow, wouldn’t it be great, this is so special, I respond to this.  Wouldn’t it be great if it could be done well and right with the right amount of time to develop and we could really do it well and do it right, and then there we were, on October the 19th doing it.  Opening.  It felt like flying.  It felt like – rapturous applause, it felt like chaos.  It felt like the right kind of chaos, you know, just magnetic, kinetic, combustible excitement.  It was just thrilling, absolutely thrilling.  A dream come true.

What’s your favorite movement of the show?

Oh gosh! Honestly, because we have been developing the piece for 6 years and because I have been with it every step of the way, what a blessing that is, we have fought and fought and put our hands into every single element of this play, and I remember like watching it and having it happen around me and being part of it every night.  I remember every single time we found the right temperature or the right texture or the right sound for every single moment, so honestly (laughing) all of it is my favorite moment.

Because we’ve, you know, our creators are so collaborative and so available and so open to us as actors, especially myself and Chad, with the development of these characters, and so every single minute of it is just gold because I remember when it was nothing.  It was literally three lines on a page.  And it’s now this fully realized scene or musical number or transition.

That leads me to another question because you said you had great input. If you sang a line in a song and you felt in your heart that it wasn’t right, could you ask to change something?

Absolutely.  Our writer, first and foremost, Joe DiPietro, is a very, very, very talented writer.  A very talented writer.  And because he’s so talented, he’s completely confident and open in his work.  So he can allow you, comfortably, to participate in the process with him.  He’s also very, very smart, so anything you put out there, he can respond to intelligently, but also with a very open mind, which is great.  Which is exactly what you need when you’re developing a brand new piece.  We’re not reviving something that’s already been done.  We’re really doing it for the first time.

And alongside Joe, as a writer, is Christopher Ashley, our director, who is supreme in vision.  Who is so supreme and smart and economic in his direction, but crystal clear, that you know, there was never a time that we got a scene or a new part of the scene or anything that we did not sit down and read together as a group before we attempted to work it out on its feet?  Does that make sense?

And so I remember for example there was a new scene that we were putting in the show during previews, and we of course, you know, I come into work and Chad comes into work, and we’ve got pages in our file folders, pages and pages and pages of new scenes and things, and Chris said let’s read this.  And we did, and as always after the read, says “What is everybody thinking?  Thoughts, questions, anything?”  And I said, “You know, Joe, I completely understand this thought behind her response to this line, but the language doesn’t fit in the Southern vernacular.”  And I’m from the South, my family is fully from the South.  I’m a Southern girl, and so I really respond to it.  And he said, “What would you say?”  And I did, and he goes, I like that.  And exactly what I said in that read is what’s in the show.

How do you keep the show fresh now?

Oh gosh, you know, developing is one thing because you’re just trying to map out the very bones of the foundation.  You just want to make sure that points A to B through Z all make sense.  That’s one part of it.

And then previews is just trying to fine tune and make sure that all the of the meat that you’re putting on the bones and all the muscle that you’re putting on the bones is arranged properly and makes sense.

And now that the show is open, it’s like dressing a beautiful child.  Every day.  You know what I mean?  This beautiful child that you helped birth and have cared for and nursed and slept with and awakened with and cried with and you know and run down the street holding and dragging or been dragged by it or however.  Whatever the day brings.

And now, it feels like every day I go into work I have a new ensemble to put on the child.  You know?  And it’s wonderful.  It’s the next gear for me as an actress of creation because there is that sort of rudimentary part of it and then there’s the part that, it’s not even finessing because I don’t view the work as finished.  The show is frozen and we have exactly the framework and exactly the structure that we need.  But now I get to keep digging and digging and digging and finding more depth and more doors that keep opening and windows that keep flying open and light coming from places that I was like where is that coming from and you just search it out every single night.  And wear beautiful clothes.

How do you keep your voice in shape, especially with the brutal winter you guys are having right now?

Yes (laughs), thank you.  What I’m glad of is that when I decided I wanted to be an actress, I knew that I had an overwhelming desire and a passion to do it and I wanted to do it always.  And I had some talent.  But what I really needed were skills.

So I really rely on my skill set to keep the voice in order.  And I like to keep it simple.  So for that reason I’m really glad I went to acting school.  That’s what I wanted to do.  So taking care of my speaking voice and my singing voice, since I happen to be working on a musical – that’s not always the case, sometimes it’s just a play – is really important.  And that’s you know, rest, I like to keep it really simple, Lance.  Rest.  I’m an 8 hours a night kind of girl.  You just have to.  You just have to go to bed.  Rest, warm up.  I absolutely warm up before every work day.  On two show days I only warm up once.  And water.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Including sleeping with a humidifier in my bedroom at night.  And use my technique.  I mean there’s nothing worse, I would think as a vocalist, than feeling that you have to muscle your way through every performance.  And technique is there to preserve your instrument but allow you to use it to its fullest capacity.  And that’s for speaking and for singing, and I really rely and like to exercise my technique all the time.  All the time.  And this role requires it.  The good news is that it was written on me, so vocally I was present in the show lives in my voice and is comfortable for me.  I would never agree to anything that I could not actually do.  But when you’re singing 8 performances a week over a year and two years and three years and that again is like the next gear.

You started out at performing arts school when you were 12, and you went to Japan and worked in Orlando at Disney World before going to New York.  Looking back now, it seems incredibly calculated.  Was this something that you had mapped out? Because it’s really smart that you had all this training and a huge briefcase of skills before you hit New York City.

I will say that you’re right, it was, so to speak, calculated.  What I knew when I left acting school, was that I wanted to work and be based out of New York.  What I did not want to do was get to New York City and get my butt kicked and then have to go home.  It happens, you know?  You get here and you just aren’t ready to be here and you can’t stay.  New York is not that kind of place.  You don’t come here to relax.  To take some time off and really just fumble around and think about things.  You come to New York to get something, to do something important.

And what I knew was that I wanted to be, and you’re going to laugh at this probably, but it’s the truth – was that I wanted to be emotionally and spiritually and financially ready to be in New York.  To be here.  Because it’s not just about the art, it’s about surviving as well.  As a person.  And it takes a lot of you.  Being an actor takes a lot out of you.  So, it was really important to me that I be able to focus on the work if that’s what indeed I really wanted to do.  And it was, so, I came to New York when I was ready to do that.  And it turns out that I spent some time in Japan and some time around the country working always in my craft.  And some time working for Uncle Walt, that’s what I call him.  So, I got here, and it was the best possible path I could have taken.  I learned so much, so much, so much.

As an actress, looking over your resume, you literally do everything.  Voice Overs, video games, commercials, television.  Is your decision to branch out a product of your education?  Because a lot of people just stick to one thing and they have just that one focus, but you do everything.

Thank you (she laughs).  Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but it served me so well, and I didn’t realize that I was planting the seed.  When I decided that I wanted to go to college and I wanted to study acting, I just knew I wanted those skills for speaking, for singing.  I wanted the knowledge for theatre history and plays and writing.  I wanted to be able to be comfortable with my body and so, working as a dancer is so important to me.  And it so happens I can sing.  I grew up, as long as I can remember I’ve been singing.  I grew up in a church.  And gospel music in the South, a Black family, my God, there’s no way around it really.

And so what I didn’t know was that when I left school, I had skill sets for totally other things that I never even thought I’d do.  If you had told me as a senior in school that I was going to be in New York and have a career in commercial voice over, I would have laughed at you.  I went to school to be a theatre actress.  But what I realized was that I got skills that are absolutely usable in the studio.  And if you can act, you can act on film, you can act on stage, you can act in a movie, you can act anywhere.  So it turned out that I had all of these skills that I absolutely seized and wanted to have.  And I’m able to use in all these different media.  And given an opportunity to use them and seizing those opportunities has also helped me I think tremendously.

When it’s come down to it I have been asked to go in and sing for a demo or something, I’ve been able to do that and that has enabled me to get the job or to get called back.  My commercial agent saw me in a play off-Broadway.  There was absolutely no commercial element whatsoever to this play.  But this agent loves the theatre, went to see it and you know asked to take a meeting with me.  We took a meeting, I liked him alot, he liked me and so here we are.

And finally, do you have any advice to actors?

My advice would be, go to school, if you haven’t already.  Find a program, go to school.  Get skills, get a skill set.  Sharpen your skills.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  My advice to people who already are actors – keep your word.  And handle your money.

I haven’t heard that one.

Well, you know it’s funny, I think when you go to art school, you learn how to be an artist.  You learn about history in whatever form you’re studying.  You branch out, you find all these other great avenues, you commune with other people who are studying the same thing you are studying.  You learn when you come out of these programs to be a fantastic, fanatical artist.  You’re armed with all this information.

What they don’t teach necessarily in the university system or the conservatory system necessarily is how to be a functioning artist, where art meets commerce because that’s really part of being a professional actor. Making sure that while you’re striving for that art, you’re also making sure you aren’t starving.  And that’s important. It’s just as important.

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