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Glover in Chair

Date: Apr 09, 2007


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Burning question of the day: How much does actor John Glover resemble Man in Chair, that human encyclopedia of musical theatre trivia and arcana, who leads audiences into the world of his favorite (fictional) musical, The Drowsy Chaperone?

Well, try this: Suggest to the Tony-winning Glover, who takes over the part of Man in Chair on Broadway beginning April 17, that the 1954 film musical A Star Is Born is a bit of a mess--and watch the sparks fly.

"What?!?" Glover exclaims with a mock gasp in the green room of the Marriott Marquis Theatre, incredulous that anyone could harbor such a heretical thought. Well, how about the fact that Judy Garland's weight clearly seems to fluctuate from scene to scene of the George Cukor film, apparently reflecting her own unbalanced state at the time?

"But that's what makes it so great!" Glover retorts without skipping a beat. He proudly recounts the night in 1983 that he attended the premiere of a reconstructed version of the film at Radio City Music Hall. Mention the classic film musicals of Doris Day, and he is very likely to unleash an impromptu rendition of Calamity Jane's "Just Blew in From the Windy City."

Glover, who may now be most recognized by the TV-viewing public for his recurring role as Lex Luthor's evil dad on the WB series Smallville, may be ready to sing you a song backstage. But apart from a production of Hans Christian Andersen at American Conservatory Theatre in 2000, this fan of musicals has no singing or dancing on his resume. "In summer stock in the '60s," Glover says, "I played Hugo in Bye Bye Birdie. During 'The Telephone Hour' they kept asking me to sing softer."

The non-musical Glover humbly marvels at the discipline of the Drowsy Chaperone cast: "I just keep watching it and watching it; I'm not a musical person, so when they say, 'You've got to wait a bar, or eight doobies of this music to do that,' I don't know what they're talking about. I'm just trying to get the show that Man in Chair is leading the audience through into my system."

The show's most exciting challenge, Glover says, isn't learning the musical timing, but learning to play off a particularly unpredictable character: the audience.

"In Love! Valour! Compassion!, I talked to the audience a lot," Glover says of the play for which he won his Tony. "And I did a play called The Traveler, which Jean-Claude Van Itallie wrote about Joe Chaikin after he had a stroke and had to learn to communicate again. It's quite a joyous experience just to be talking to an audience. They're different every night. I can't wait to see what happens on the 17th."

When he's on summer hiatus from Smallville, which shoots in Vancouver, Glover makes a point of doing a play. Last year it was Terrence McNally's Some Men, in its premeire at Philadelphia's Plays and Players Theatre; the year before it was in Jon Robin Baitz's The Paris Letter at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre; and in 2005 it was the Philadelphia premiere of Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Most of these jobs have simply been offered, but Glover actually had to audition for the part of Man in Chair.

"I was very nervous about coming to audition," Glover admits, "because you don't want to fail. So I just attacked!" The casting director had advised him, he says, not to see the show first. "They told me, 'Just come and bring what you bring to it.' "

What Glover brings to the role, among other things, is an impish, quicksilver sense of humor--and his own invaluable experience as a prototypical Man in Chair.

"Most of the people I know who have seen the show are the Man in the Chair," Glover says. "I think that's one of the beauties of the piece, that people come and identify with the character so much. How can you not? It's a love letter to the musical theatre."

As for all those musicals that aren't technically on John Glover's resume, not to worry: The cast albums have done some heavy rotation. "I've acted out so many of the shows at home while listening to the records," Glover says, "that I feel like I've done them."

More information about The Drowsy Chaperone here.