Evil and mean…but only on stage. In real life, out actress Beth Glover is delightful.
by Donalevan Maines
On national tours, says out actress Beth Glover, she only plays “evil” roles.
So naturally, in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, this month at the Hobby Center, she’s Madame, the vain, despotic (though oddly endearing) stepmother in gorgeous gowns by William Ivey Long.
The last time Glover twirled through Houston, she says, “In All Shook Up, I was the mayor—a mean, bigoted, racist mother. I came to Jesus at the end of that.”
She adds, “I am incredibly mean in this show,” but audiences should detect some sign of contrition by happily-ever-after. “I play her my way, trying to show glimpses of [her humanity and] the person she can be. But I don’t ask for forgiveness at the end—that wouldn’t be her personality.”
Glover got used to gorgeous gowns as a “pageant girl” in Mississippi, where she was fourth runner-up at the state’s Junior Miss pageant in 1982. As Miss Southern in 1984, she was a top contender for Miss Mississippi, a preliminary to Miss America.
But Glover says she was done in by a poor song choice in the talent competition.
The pageant mom who made Glover’s gowns—“They were stunning,” she sighs—“asked me why, why my coach had me sing ‘Touch Me in the Morning.’ She said it was too sexual. It was one of the dumbest choices ever. They were staring at me.”
Returning to the University of Southern Mississippi, Glover left pageants behind like a glass slipper and wrapped up her studies in broadcast journalism. With the scholarships she won in pageants, says Glover, “My parents didn’t have to pay a dime for my schooling.”
In classic over-achiever fashion, Glover landed in the newsroom at Cable News Network (CNN) in Atlanta, just as Ted Turner was revolutionizing television journalism with 24-hour cable news. “It was incredibly exciting,” she says. And though her internship came with “no promise of a job,” Glover got hired—and promoted three times in the next two years.
However, she says, “I absolutely heard a voice—I heard an actual voice—and it said, ‘You’re in the wrong place.’” She explains, “Whether you believe in God or the universe or trusting your gut, or all of that, I believe that if you listen, you’re going to be put on the right track.”
Glover’s gut told her to strike out for New York City and study acting. CNN didn’t want to lose her, so it transferred her to the Big Apple, and she stayed in news for her first year as a drama student.
During her second year in New York, Glover left CNN and shed any doubts about her sexual orientation. “I had dated women in college, but I thought it might just be a phase,” she says. “But I realized, ‘I’m gay.’”
Her parents had opposite reactions to Glover’s coming out. “My dad ran a little theater, so he was around gay people the whole time I was growing up,” she explains. “He said, ‘Oh? Who are you dating? Can I meet her?’ He was just my daddy.”
In contrast, it took a while for Glover’s mother to come around. “Eventually, she did a full 180,” says the actress, who is married to Karen Lewis, a writer who won Emmy Awards for All My Children, including one in the late 1980s for a groundbreaking storyline about AIDS. “It was perfect. It was fabulous,” boasts Glover. “Karen wanted to [write an AIDS storyline] in tribute to her dear, dear friend Matt who died with AIDS.”
After the network rejected Lewis’ first storyline involving a gay male character, she had angelic Cindy Parker contract HIV from her husband, an IV drug user. Adam Chandler’s lovable identical twin, Stuart, married Cindy and adopted her son, Scott. Ratings went through the roof, and Ellen Wheeler (as Cindy), David Canary (as Adam/Stuart), and the All My Children writing team won Emmy Awards in an emotional, televised ceremony in 1988.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was nominated for nine Tony Awards in 2013, including best musical revival, book (for out playwright Douglas Carter Beane), leading actor, leading actress, featured actress, lighting, sound, orchestrations, and costumes—the 14th nod for out costuming legend William Ivey Long. He won the Tony (his sixth), but Beane lost to Harvey Fierstein’s book for Kinky Boots and consoled himself with Nathan Lane’s Best Leading Actor nomination for Beane’s play The Nance.
Beane’s book is a big reason Glover wanted to be in the show. “I love it,” she says. “It’s very contemporary. The audiences gasp at some of the changes. I can’t tell you them—they’re surprises—but Cinderella is empowered. There’s more to this than little girls leaving the show thinking, ‘If I’m pretty, I’ll get the Prince.’
“I wish the title said, ‘Something for Everyone,’” adds Glover, “because every generation gets something out of the show. Mothers know the score. Little boys like the prince and his armor, and he fights. The set is so rich; the forest is magical.”
The lush production is based on a television special that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II composed in 1957 for Julie Andrews, who was Broadway’s newest star in My Fair Lady. A stage version of the musical premiered in 1958 at the London Coliseum.
The day that Glover graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she landed both an agent and a role in the touring company of the off-Broadway hit The Taffetas. Her next agent advised her not to live openly, but she refused. “I acted like a person in a relationship,” she explains. “My girlfriend would come to my shows. It was the ’90s and I was out, so every kid coming through the theater who was kind of grappling with their sexuality, I would have them in my dressing room” seeking advice and support.
Glover met Lewis about 20 years ago. “She’s from Alexandria, Virginia, and she kept telling me she’s Southern, and I kept telling her she’s not,” says Glover. “You and I know she’s not.”
Indeed, we know that “Southern” is Blanche DuBois, the Tennessee Williams heroine whose portrait by Glover is one of her greatest triumphs. Another was playing Edith Bouvier Beale and Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens, winning Best Leading Actress in a Musical from the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle. Glover especially loved playing Little Edie. “It was heavenly,” she says, demonstrating her thick Boston Brahmin accent.
What: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
When: May 26–June 7
Where: Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street
Details: tuts.com or 713.558.2600
Donalevan Maines also writes about love behind bars in this issue of OutSmart magazine.