Actor Montego Glover has had an enviable career. Having made her Broadway debut as the understudy to Celie and Nettie in the original production of The Color Purple, Glover’s big sound and nuanced emotion set her on a path to some of musical theatre's strongest onstage women. She originated the role of Felicia Farrell in Memphis, a black singer set on making it “on the radio” and beyond in a racially heated U.S.; she took over the iconic part of Fantine in the 2014 revival of Les Misérables, showing us again heartbreak and vulnerability; she created the role of Annie in It Shoulda Been You, proving she knows how to make audiences laugh; and, now, she plays the stoic and complex Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago production of Hamilton.
Playbill sat down with Glover to talk about her version of the woman who will never be satisfied, building a career as a woman of color, and more.
What is the difference between making something your own when you’re creating a role versus taking over for one?
Montego Glover: Even if you are taking over a role, there’s still that area where you need to make it your own—it just doesn’t come first in the process. Creating a role like Felicia Farrell, for example, in Memphis is, for me, about having the permission and the flexibility to try everything and to really make that character someone who is grown and rooted in you and all of your sensibilities. Her spine lives right alongside your spine. It’s the only way you’re going to really be able to endure the creative process. Replacing, for me, is about joining a river that is quite in motion, meeting a piece where it is because it’s already been made.
So how do you make something your own if you’re not the one originating?
You do the nuts and bolts first. You have got to learn your music. You have got to learn your blocking. You have got to learn your lines. You really do need to study the current production so that you know what the shapes are because it’s most important, first, that you fit in the slot. If you do that successfully, what you do is earn the right as a company member and a creative spirit to then start making color changes. But you only get that if you do the work first.
What I love about replacing is someone else before you has done the work. I am forever indebted to Renée Elise Goldsberry for her indelible mark on Angelica.
When did you first see Hamilton?
I saw the show the first time downtown at The Public. I was just so mesmerized by the piece, to be honest. It was such a wall of glorious that I was out of my mind.
What are your favorite moments as Angelica?
One of my favorite moments is “Helpless.” I love that song. I love the joy and the beauty of sisters, watching someone fall in love, and celebrating that with them. Just the effervescence of that. Then there’s “Wait for It.” It is my opportunity to go into the mind of this man. Now, all that said, when I saw “Satisfied” the first time at The Public, I lost it. Every single night I feel like I am taking the most magnificent nose dive off the most magnificent cliff.
How have you evolved as a performer that allows you to go from one fierce woman to another?
I continue to grow as a person. It’s important as you grow up to recognize that taking care of yourself is important, too, because not only am I the instrument, I’m a person.
You’ve played roles that are like Felicia in a racially driven story and a story about Blackness and a divided world. You’ve also played roles like in It Shoulda Been You, where it’s—
Just a girl.
You’ve done Fantine, who is racially unspecific even though traditionally played by a white woman. And now Angelica who, in the Hamilton world, it has been prescribed that she is not white. Is that good fortune that you’ve been on the opposite side of open-minded tables or is that something that you have advice to offer for other performers (or creatives) to help them achieve that fluidity?
It’s not an exact science, I feel, and it’s a little of both. I feel like there have been moments I have been standing in the right place at the right time, and it just made sense. I think there have been times I’ve gone in the room and given my idea of this woman and the idea has been accepted.
As actors, you have to remember that if you want the opportunities, you have to show up for the opportunities. If I get the audition, if you get the call, you have to go and you need to be prepared. If it’s your fifth or sixth one of the day and you’re dog-tired, you just have to show up because, by the numbers, those opportunities are going to find you.
All I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories. I respond more than anything to the heart of women and/or men. (Eventually, I suppose I might play a dude.) I’ve never been looking to be the first African-American woman to do a thing. I’ve never been looking for just roles for a woman of color. I’ve never felt like they were scarce. I’ve never felt like there was just nothing for me to get into or to do because that’s just not my world view. I believe in abundance. In my world, there has always been tons to do no matter what I look like or [the role] looks like or where we come from.
Is there a song, a scene, a moment that you miss performing from all of your past roles?
Wow. The final moment of “Colored Woman” in Memphis. “Just one colored woman, who will color her life her way.” That is the statement. In Les Miz, the very top of “I Dreamed a Dream.” It’s something about the crystalline quietness of that moment. It Shoulda Been You, there was a moment during that insane silly duet with Nick Spangler. I just had a good, old-fashioned pelvic thrust at a wedding reception for no reason.
Lightning round: Who is the artist you’re watching?
The book you’re reading?
The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
The album you’re listening to?
Gretech Parlato. She’s a fantastic jazz artist.
The TV show you’re watching?
I have reached back in time, and I’m watching In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne. Who…what?! It’s like a master class in acting and writing.
The last movie you saw that satisfied you?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Also, The Shape of Water.