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'Memphis' portrays inter-racial romance in the South

Jacquinn Williams | 4/20/2011, 2:55 p.m.
Montego Glover plays Felicia Farrell in “Memphis,” a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical set in the segregated South in the 1950s. Montego Glover

Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Memphis” is coming to a select number of theaters in the Boston area from April 28 to May 3. The performance was filmed at the Shubert Theater in New York and will be broadcast nationwide in more than 500 cinemas, helping Broadway fans to catch the play without leaving their hometowns.

 Set in the segregated 1950s, “Memphis” is an original story about forbidden love, pushing boundaries and the pull of rock and roll. A young white DJ named Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball) falls in love with black rock and roll singer Felicia Farrell (Montego Glover) and promises to make her a star. Calhoun pushes to get black music played at his radio station as his love for Felicia explodes through song and dance.

 “Memphis” features a Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) with music and lyrics composed by David Bryan, Grammy Award-winning keyboard player and founding member of Bon Jovi.

 A week before “Memphis” hit the theaters, the Banner talked with Glover.  A petite powerhouse, Glover’s size belies her larger than life voice. She’s performed for President Barack Obama and has starred in “Aida,” “Dream Girls” and “The Color Purple.” Glover has also done voice-overs in commercials, lends her voice to characters in video games and was a singing locomotive in the popular kids cartoon “Dora the Explorer.”

Though Glover maintains a rigorous schedule, this talented star donates her time and talent to philanthropic causes such as Broadway Cares and the Point Foundation Scholarship for LGBT teens. She’s concerned with lowering her carbon footprint and has recently started composting. Glover, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., chats with ease about growing up in the South, meeting Oprah Winfrey and all the stuff in between.

What attracted you to the story of “Memphis”?

Well it was a brand new musical when we first started performing it. So I got to create a new role from the ground up. I got to explore and add color as I tweaked my performance over the years. The character and I are a lot alike. We’re both aspiring artists raised in Tennessee.

Generally, when interracial couples are portrayed in movies and on TV, it’s usually a black male and a white female lead.  It’s refreshing to see it the other way around. What’s your take?

I think it’s wonderful. This story is the illustration of what love is. Falling in love is something marvelous and for these two (Huey and Felicia). Their relationship raises the stakes for them.

Have you seen the movie and does it translate well?

I have not seen it yet. When filming we had to address the lighting. Lighting for the stage and lighting for HDTV is completely different. That was the only major difference.

I read that you were in Japan for a while. What did you learn about yourself and the culture while there?

I was in a show there and it was amazing. It was my first time visiting Asia. Americans tend to see the world in a certain way. Life there challenged my American way of thinking. The Japanese are incredibly welcoming and generous. I marveled at their ability to be one with their environment. Also, it was the first time in my whole life of traveling that people thought I was African until I spoke. It was interesting that they thought of me in that way. I loved that I was bigger than everyone in Japan. I was a big woman. I thought to myself, “I am as big as a man.” In America I’m small.

Your Broadway debut was in the “Color Purple” as Nettie and Celie. Did you get to meet Oprah?

Yes, twice. She stopped by the set.

Were you nervous?

I don’t think the word is nervous. Actors are acting all the time. She’s so warm and happy to be present. It’s thrilling that she’d come by and say hi to the kids.

What was it like growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn.?

It’s a beautiful state. Lots of space to run and grow. There are lots of mountain ranges in the distance. Chattanooga is a southern town on its way to becoming a city. There’s a sense of southern hospitality that’s always there. That southern disposition is in our DNA. We have a strong sense of community. It’s a great place to grow up and when it’s time to leave it, you’re ready!

What do audience members get to look forward to in “Memphis”?

You will laugh, you will cry and really enjoy the world we’ve created! It’s just a great story.

For tickets, visit www.memphisthemusical.com.