Glover has played ambitious R&B singer Felicia Farrell throughout the musical’s six-year development process, from its earliest readings and productions at four different regional theatres, to its current home at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Naturally, much has changed in the show during that process, but Glover said without hesitation, “What we have now is exactly what we needed — [whether it was] a brand-new song or a permutation of another song.”
“The heartbeat of the play," Glover adds, "has always been the same. There is a man [Memphis radio DJ Huey Calhoun, played by Glover’s fellow Drama Desk nominee Chad Kimball] who loves this music, who loves this woman. He happens to be white, and she happens to be black, and the music happens to be blues and R&B, and rock ’n’ roll is exploding. That has always been the same with Memphis. But what we’ve gotten better at over this developmental process is the storytelling: better about the locale, the texture, the sound, the music, the arcs of the characters . . . and that has helped us complete the journey of the show.”
Felicia’s music calls for some powerhouse belting, but what about the emotional challenge of playing a character who starts a passionate interracial romance in the South in the 1950’s, with a man who can open career doors for her? “Honestly,” Glover says, “the most difficult part of the emotional challenge of that role is containing the emotion. The character and I are very similar. We have very similar backgrounds. The subject matter is very relevant, and the urgency of everything in her life and [her] arc in the play is so complete that my biggest challenge as an actor is just containing all of the emotion, not letting too much of it fly too soon or too furiously or in a way that our audiences wouldn’t respond to or understand.”
Glover’s ability to meet both the emotional and vocal challenges of her role impressed the Drama Desk voters. Two hours after she spoke with Playbill.com, she was on the Concert Hall’s stage, having tied with Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (of A Little Night Music) for Oustanding Actress in a Musical.
“I share this award with the amazing, outstanding people that I work with at Memphis,” Glover said in her teary, heartfelt acceptance speech, praising everyone from the creative team to the cast to the production staff. “This is such a dream of mine to be an actress and to be a member of this community. I’ve dreamt of moments like this since I was a little girl.”
Not long afterwards, there came cause for even more tears of joy when Memphis was named Outstanding Musical. Glover reveled in the moment in the press room backstage, sharing it with Memphis authors Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. (Bryan took home two awards of his own, for Best Music and a shared honor for Best Orchestrations with Daryl Waters.) The show’s overjoyed producers also appeared, as did Kimball, who did not win his award but who happily gave his co-star a big bear hug.
Glover and Zeta-Jones previously tied in the same category at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Could they pull off a double win at the Tonys?
— Thomas Peter