Randy Adams always had a song in his heart, but for many years, he made his living as a numbers guy. He was managing director of TheatreWorks for two decades until he decided to try his hand as a Broadway producer.
It didn't take him long to land his first big hit. Adams knew that "Memphis" was a sure thing ever since it was workshopped at TheatreWorks in 2002. The raucous musical, which spins around a white DJ whose love for "race records" thrusts African-American music into the mainstream, didn't make its Broadway debut until 2009, but his instincts certainly proved true.
The crowd-pleaser went on to win the Tony for best musical and ran for more than three years on the Great White Way. Now "Memphis" is returning home to the Bay Area as part of the Broadway San Jose season. Adams took a few minute out to talk about why he never doubted "Memphis" would have legs, what he misses about TheatreWorks and what life is like as a Broadway impresario.
Q Did you know that ''Memphis'' would be a hit right from the start?
A I have to say from the very first reading of ''Memphis'' in the TheatreWorks New Works Festival in spring 2002, I was amazed by the response from the audience. They went crazy for the music and loved the characters. ... The response by the time TheatreWorks did it in 2004 was overwhelming. People went crazy for it. We sold out that run incredibly fast. After all of that, I have to say out of all the shows I was involved with at TheatreWorks that we created, "Memphis" always seemed like the show that had the most potential to be a commercial success. It was about something, but it was also a helluva lot of fun with amazing music. It was always the music that made people love the show, no matter what shape the storytelling was in. The book of the show changed a lot from that first reading in 2002 until it opened on Broadway in 2009, but each time the show was done, it got better!
Q What about the show really spoke to you?
A I loved that it was an American story. I loved that it talked about cultures coming together and that music was the instrument of change. Music became a common language that everyone could enjoy and agree was good. I also loved that the main character of the show -- Huey Calhoun -- was one guy that made a difference. I love the idea that one guy, even if he wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack, could have a passion for something and do something that ultimately changed the world. It is the great American Dream to make the world a better place.
Q What makes it so infectious?
A The music and the dance and the laughs! The music is what has always kept people loving this show. David Bryan, composer of "Memphis" and keyboardist for Bon Jovi, has written a helluva score that makes people want to dance, cry, laugh and ultimately get up and move. Combine that with the amazing dances created by Sergio Trujillo and you can't sit still. I love that finale -- "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll" -- because you come out of the theater feeling great. You have just been on an amazing journey with these characters and over the course of those 2 ½ hours you have laughed, cried, cheered and wanted to get up and dance. Also, I think the thing that surprises folks about "Memphis" is how funny some of it is. There is a sequence where Huey Calhoun does a commercial on the radio about DuPont Beer that is one of the funniest sequences I have ever heard.
Q What did it mean to you when the musical won the Tony?
A Well, it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. Here was a show that I had lived with since 2002, and eight years later-it was voted the best musical of 2010. I was so happy for Joe and David, who had worked for so many years and several productions to make it happen. I was so happy they won individual awards that night for their work as well. I was also thrilled because winning best musical means everyone with the production is being recognized for their collective work. It was also very gratifying that a musical that was not based on a book or movie or television show -- a show that was totally original with no stars -- could still become a success on Broadway. And I was thrilled to get to announce the four regional theatres, especially TheatreWorks, for helping to get this show to Broadway.
Q How do you feel about "Memphis" having its Bay Area homecoming?
A I think it is fantastic! I can't wait to have "Memphis" in its current form return to the Bay Area. We have had some incredibly loyal TheatreWorks folks who have followed the journey of ''Memphis'' through all its incarnations from TheatreWorks to La Jolla to Seattle 5th Avenue and to Broadway. I am excited for the rest of the Bay Area to have the opportunity to see what happened to this show created by TheatreWorks. I am excited because I will be back in the area for a few days, including opening night, to see this show playing in the Bay Area. I hope I get to see lots of people who remember seeing it at TheatreWorks and now get to see it in its Tony-winning form.
Q What's it like being a big-shot Broadway producer, and do you ever miss your old gig at TheatreWorks?
A I don't know that I am big-shot Broadway producer, but I have to say I love what I am doing. I am thrilled that all the things that I have learned over my career have led me to what I am doing now. I love working on new musicals, and to be doing it in the theatrical capital of America is surreal. Who ever thought that a small town boy from Willard, Ohio, would end up being a Tony Award-winning producer. I miss all the great people connected with TheatreWorks. It is an amazing place and now has one of the greatest new works development programs, especially for musicals, anywhere in the country. I am glad to have been a small part of making that all happen.
Presented by Broadway
Through: Tuesday through Oct. 28
Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd.