You might say that Montego Glover has grown up with Into the Woods — on stage, at least. As an undergraduate musical theater major at Florida State University, the actress and singer played Little Red Riding Hood in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s duly beloved mashup of Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Two Drama Desk Awards, a Tony nomination, and numerous other honors later, Glover — whose starring roles have ranged from Felicia Farrell in the original Broadway cast of Memphis to Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago company of Hamilton — is revisiting Woods, this time on Broadway, in the role of The Witch.
Glover is sharing the juicy part introduced on Broadway by Bernadette Peters back in 1987, and later played by Meryl Streep in a film adaptation, with Patina Miller, who inherited it from Heather Headley when this Woods transferred to the St. James Theatre this past summer, shortly after an acclaimed run as part of the New York City Center Encores! series, under Lear deBessonet’s direction.
After receiving rave reviews, producers announced the first of what would be two extensions; Woods is now set to remain at the St. James through January 8. So a few casting changes became necessary for the fall and early winter. While Miller could remain in a part-time capacity, deBessonet enlisted Glover to play The Witch on Tuesdays, Wednesdays (matinee and evening performances), and Thursdays.
“She was aware of my work, but we’d never had an opportunity to work together,” Glover says of deBessonet, who was celebrated for her imaginative output for the Public Theater before Encores! made her artistic director. Glover saw her Woods before joining the cast, “and at our first rehearsal, I had to take the first five to 10 minutes and just praise her for the vision and beauty she had brought to the stage.”
What followed between Glover and the director was “a conversation about the text: what James Lapine wrote, what Sondheim wrote, for The Witch. We talked about the core of this woman being that she is a mother” — or acts as one to Rapunzel in Woods. “When you have a child, you care for your children. However you love them, whether that’s good or bad or gnarly, that is your experience; that is the action of mothering. And we talked about what it means to be someone else’s child, and how that colors your mothering and carries forward in your life day to day.”
Though not a mother herself, Glover notes, “I am someone’s daughter, and I draw on those experiences. And I have three nieces and a nephew, and I have friends I knew before they had children who now have families. So there are children in my life who I love like they’re my own — children I watched grow up, for whom I’m a loving presence. And they’ve been of great value to me as I’ve been crafting The Witch.”
While Glover obviously doesn’t spend time on stage with Miller, she sees a synergy in their relationship within the production. “We very much view and handle the role and each other in a together space, which I love. I feel like she’s a fully realized rendering of The Witch, and I’m a fully realized rendering of The Witch, and we place them together, and that makes for an even deeper, richer presence in the show. So we’re really excited about being able to share the role and do the work together.”
Glover and Miller aren’t the first women of color to play The Witch on Broadway: Phylicia Rashad tackled the role as a replacement in the original company, and Vanessa Williams played her in a previous revival in 2002. While Glover has “focused on how and why each actress has changed the role” more than on race specifically, she’s aware of “an opportunity just in the visual. It can give you a lot to experience and lean into when you see a person of color in this role, because it gives you just a little bit more of a vantage point to see the world through a set of eyes that may be different from yours.”
She adds, “I very much think it’s important that women in general, but also women of color, be accepting of themselves, because there’s just no way you can move through the world and invite other people to accept you if you’re not doing that for yourself. And there’s work involved in every step of that process.”
If negotiating that process for The Witch has been a challenge, it’s one that Glover embraces. “From the minute I got the first phone call about this show, every stitch of it has been a golden, shiny, sparkly, wonderful joy. The existing company is so warm and welcoming that it’s like running a race with the wind at your back. It just feels 100 percent like the right thing.”
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