One of Montego Glover's first musical theater roles in college was Red Riding Hood in "Into the Woods." Now she stars as the witch in that same musical on its national tour, reprising her role in the Broadway production.
"As a student, I got my first chance to work on a Sondheim piece. So it was a learning experience," the actress said in a phone interview. "Now, as a working professional, I've grown up and into the witch."
Glover, a 1992 graduate of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, is one of the most talented and sought-after actresses working on Broadway today. Chattanoogans have the opportunity to see her perform without traveling to New York when the national tour of "Into the Woods" stops at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville May 23-28.
Glover was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in "Memphis;" she was a member of the Chicago cast of "Hamilton" and in "Les Miserables" and "The Color Purple," among multiple stage productions.
Her TV credits include "The Black List," "Bull," "Smash," "The Good Wife," " Inventing Anna," "White Collar" and "Law & Order."
Her commercial credits and voiceovers cover well-known brands such as Campbell's Soup, Verizon, McDonald's, Samsung, Subway, Nickelodeon and Chase Slate Bank Card.
"Into the Woods," by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, is a mash-up of characters from children's stories such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel." The characters in this fractured fairy tale all have wishes and desires — but learn to be careful what they wish for.
"Into the Woods" producers called Glover and asked her to share the witch role with actress Patina Miller on Broadway without even an audition — quite a compliment to her talent.
"It had never been done before — two actresses have never split a Broadway role," she says of the unprecedented casting. "It required quite a bit of conversation between the two of us because her witch is definitely hers and mine is mine, but there are a couple of pieces that had to be the same for the cast in continuity."
Glover is one of four principal actors from the Broadway cast asked to reprise their roles on the tour. The other three are Stephanie Block, the baker's wife, Tony Award winner for "The Cher Show;" Gavin Creel, Cinderella's prince/wolf, Tony winner for "Hello, Dolly;" and Sebastian Arcellus, the baker, whom audiences will recognize as character Jay Whitman from the CBS series "Madame Secretary" and character Lucas Goodwin on Netflix's "House of Cards."
Glover expressed her joy in being cast in this production that she calls "one of the best works ever created by Stephen Sondheim.
"It's a love letter to his memory and to his genius. I'm so happy to be able to present something so beautiful, so close to home."
The following interview with Montego Glover was edited for clarity.
Chatter Magazine: How unusual is it for a touring company to travel with the actual Broadway stars playing their roles?
Montego Glover: Extraordinarily rare and quite lovely. In fact, there are not just the four of us, but 90% of the Broadway cast is on the road together. We have the same set, the same lighting and the same costumes.
Chatter: The witch's entrance is quite a difficult solo but is very important because it lays the groundwork for the plot in the remainder of the show. The tricky syncopated rhythms hopscotch all over the score and there are lyrics upon lyrics, most of them not in a rhyming format. How difficult was that to learn?
Glover: It is difficult. Sondheim has endeavored to give her the active moments of the play in musical form. She has a light rap style, which changes to monologue. It's a great responsibility because if the audience doesn't hear this information then they lose plot points. So it's a great expository responsibility but also a lot of fun.
Chatter: Some theatergoers see the witch as the villain, others think she is an overprotective mother trying to shelter Rapunzel. How do you envision her?
Glover: The witch is first and foremost a mother, a woman, a truth-teller and sometimes a villain — not because she seeks to do harm, but she has a wish like all the others. She wants the curse reversed.
She carries a real emotional presence in this play, a real emotional wealth. At her core is being a mother. She embraces that fully and all the emotional complexity that comes with it.
Chatter: What's your favorite song to perform?
Glover: "Last Midnight" because it is a culmination of everything the witch has learned about her experience among humans. I really love Sondheim's musical style, and it gives the witch an opportunity to make a final statement and use her power to place herself where she would like to be.
Chatter: Why do you believe this show is worth the 2 1/2-hour drive up I-24 to see?
Glover: First, this is one of the best works ever created by Sondheim. This is Broadway direct from Broadway — same actors, set, costumes, lighting. It just won a Grammy for Best Cast Album, and it stars a fellow Chattanoogan.
Chatter: What's next for you after the tour ends?
Glover: I will celebrate the 41st season at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops performing the music of George and Ira Gershwin. The concert is Feb. 9, 2024, which is also my birthday.
The national tour of the Broadway production of "Into the Woods" stops in Nashville May 23-28, starring Chattanoogan Montego Glover in the role of the witch.
Multiple performances will be presented in Andrew Jackson Hall of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, 505 Deaderick St.
Tickets start at $39. For more information visit TPAC.org.