Chorus Girl Confessions: Broadway veteran Cameron Adams spills about past productions and succeeding in the theatre industry

Cameron Adams. Photo credit: Broadway.com.

Cameron Adams. Photo credit: Broadway.com.

Let’s face it: A musical cannot live on Broadway without that large bunch of triple threats to back up the leading actors. Whether they’re mouthing “apples and oranges” in the background of a scene, providing the highest (and lowest) of harmonies, or treating the audience to a good old-fashioned dance number, an ensemble is essential to making or breaking an entire production.

Of course in most ensembles, once in a while an audience member’s eye may be drawn to one performer in particular who is going above and beyond the rest. Those who have been fortunate enough to see Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Imperial Theatre may have sat up a little straighter in their seats and thought to themselves, “Who is that girl in the short brown wig and pink dress?”

That incredibly talented standout is Cameron Adams. Over the years, she has performed in a total of eight musicals on Broadway, including How to Succeed in Business Without Really TryingPromises, Promises, and Hairspray. Pretty impressive for a 30-year old, not to mention she made her Broadway debut at just 17! Adams (who received the honorary Gypsy Robe for her “nice work” last year) has one of the most recognizable faces on the Great White Way, and you can always count on her to deliver an eye-catching performance in every role she’s been in.

Stage Door Dish received the honor of talking to this lovely lady about her remarkable career, favorite co-stars, and what it really means to be in the ensemble of a Broadway show. She even told us how she feels about Smash!

SDD: So, you grew up in Myrtle Beach, SC, and you’ve said previously that one of your earliest encounters with theatre was when you saw a local performance that drove you to pursue your goal of being on Broadway. Do you remember what musical it was that kick-started that dream for you?

CA: You know what’s so funny, I don’t remember exactly what that was in Myrtle Beach, but I remember very specifically my first trip to New York, which was for my thirteenth birthday, and I came to see Crazy For You, on Broadway. That was my first Broadway show that  I ever saw. And it was like, perfect, I sat on the  front row of the mezzanine with my chin on the front of the mezzanine, just like, with huge wide eyes. And I still remember it at 30-years old, looking back at 13 and going, “Oh my God that’s exactly what I want to do! I want to be those people.” Specifically at the time, Karen Ziemba was playing the female lead and I just remember thinking, “I want to be her.” She’s so wonderful, and just a true singer/dancer/actor/comedienne, all that stuff. The most specific for me, is that moment.

SDD: You’ve also said that when you were a preteen, you had a dance teacher that really “whipped you into shape.” Can you describe her? And were those experiences beneficial for you in the long run?

CA: Absolutely. I’m still super close with my dance teacher and we see each other all the time. I was so lucky because nowadays a lot of these TV shows glorify these drill sergeant  mean, dance teachers. And I had a perfect combination of someone who actually took over my studio when I was I guess 11 or 12, and the owner sold the studio to this woman and she took over. A couple teachers left, a couple new people started, but this woman just changed my life because she came in here like, “You have potential but we have to push you a little bit harder.” Meaning, at that point in my life I was into it and I loved it and I knew that I loved it but I needed more ballet and I needed more experience, summer programs, and things like that, and she really pushed me to do all of those things. The next summer I did my first ballet summer program at South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts, and then after that I did the Modern Dance program at North Carolina School of the Arts, which completely changed my life and the way I dance, I firmly believe. I think that program is amazing. And she just really focused on my love for Broadway and singing and musical theatre, and they offered acting classes for the first time, and they offered voice lessons for the first time at my dance studio, and it just changed my life. And she was a big supporter. She really, really, really stood behind me and pushed me, and made me better. It was a changing point for me, for sure. And it’s funny; I look back at videos of myself dancing and between the age of eleven and twelve to like thirteen and fourteen, it’s a drastic difference in my dancing. Technique and performance, like all around. Drastic difference.

SDD: So then what’s better: Instructors or choreographers who push you really hard, or someone who lets you kind of do your own thing? What works for you?

CA: For me, I think it’s that happy medium. I think it’s the way life is in general. At least for me. With a choreographer or a dance teacher or a director, it’s someone who lets you be you and do your thing, but pushes you to be the best you. It’s not in a nasty way, and it sounds so cliche but I’m being serious! This sounds like an after-school special! It’s like, you know I just think If I’m ever working, at least now as a professional, if I’m ever working for someone I don’t respect, I need to figure that out. I need to maybe move on or do something else, because I have been so lucky to only ever, at least at this level of Broadway, work for people that I am like, constantly wanting to be my best for. And in return, that pushes me to be my best.

SDD: You made your Broadway debut at 17. How crazy was that? Were you the youngest in the company?

CA: I wasn’t because it was a revival of The Music Man! So there were so many kids! And I was on the older end of the children. And actually, crazy small world, Travis Wall, obviously from So You Think You Can Dance fame and who’s choreographing all of these amazing things now, he was like 12-years old, 11-years old when that company was made. Tiler Peck, who’s now Principal at New York City Ballet, played my little sister at one point in the show. I was on the higher end of the kids. And it was nice because there was like, another girl who was 17 and a guy who was 16. Actually Chase Brock who’s now choreographer of Spider-Man and has his own dance company. A lot of the really young talent from that show has sort of gone off and done these super amazing things. One of them is a lawyer now, which is hilarious. But I think I was a good age because there were a bunch of the girls in their twenties that were playing kids in the show and stuff like that were in their early twenties. So they were 20, 21, 22, so it sort of felt like having a bunch of big sisters, which was really fun for me. I liked that a lot. But I think when you’re at that age, yes it was the most exciting thing ever, but especially about being a kid…you’re just fearless. You know I look back at that now and I’m like, “Oh my God Cameron you were so brave to do that.” Just to be like, “Let’s do this! Yeah! Broadway!” I barely had a headshot! I had no idea what I was doing when I started. By the end of that show, I had learned a whole lot. But I also think going into that show too, my parents were really great, and they were like, “Listen, just think of this as trying this out. You’re going to go to school to study this anyway, and if you decide it’s not what you want to do, then you leave and we’ll find something else that you want to do.” They were really great at reminding me of that, which was awesome.

 SDD: How did it feel to go from that huge first experience right into Oklahoma! on Broadway?

CA: It was terrifying. That was really scary. I think that was one of the scarier times in my career because I was only 19 when I went into Oklahoma!, I turned shortly thereafter, and I was a replacement. So I was not starting with everyone, getting to know everyone, and it had been up and running. With that cast I was one of the younger people; women especially. And everyone was lovely obviously, but it was hard to come in and I ended up taking over for a part. I started out as a vacation swing, so I was learning like 12 female tracks in a very short amount of time, and I was 19-years old and had never done that before. So that show for me was terrifying for me in the beginning, and at the same time, it’s funny at this point I’d love to do it and play Laurie or Ado Annie, but at that point it was just really lovely to get to dance that ballet, and Susan Stroman’s choreography was so beautiful and wonderful. But it was terrifying! But then I got comfortable and ended up taking over for a part which was awesome because it felt like mine. But that was scary.

SDD: Since you’ve been in musicals with so many catchy and popular scores, are there any songs you’ll hear nowadays that make you cringe or roll your eyes because you’ve heard it so many times?

CA: It’s so funny; I usually feel that way when I’m in a show while I’ve been there for a long time, but when I think back, no. Just the other day actually, I will say this, on my iPhone I was listening to music and a Shrek song came up, and it was “Who I’d Be” which is this beautiful song that closes the first act, and I was like, tearing up! And I was like, “Oh I love this! It reminds me of this!” It’s usually while I’m in a show, so I would have said right now doing Nice Work if You Can Get It, it would drive me crazy but doing this show and listening to Gershwin music every night? It’s pretty impossible to get tired of it. I’ve been lucky I’ve done shows, like you said, good shows with good music, too.

SDD: For the original musicals you’ve done, were you involved with Shrek, Cry-Baby, and Nice Work from the early workshops forward?

CA: With Cry-Baby, I was involved all the way from workshops to out-of-town try-outs to Broadway, yes. Which was really cool because a lot changed. Sometimes change for the better, sometimes change for the worse depending on what part you’re talking about. It also really bonds you with your cast if you’re together all that time, you know, you go through a lot. With Shrek, I got added the very last second. I didn’t do a workshop, I didn’t do a reading, I didn’t do an out-of-town try-out, I got added. They added two ensemble tracks the very last minute, so I literally got hired a week and a half before we started rehearsals for Broadway. I came in sort of playing “catch-up” a little bit. And then with this one, no I had not been involved with it before. It had been a reading and I couldn’t be there for that, but no this was brand new to me too.

SDD: What was the main selling point for Nice Work for you? What was the main reason for you leaping at this opportunity?

CA: I try to set goals for myself. Especially nowadays we’re working in a time in theatre where there are smaller ensembles and everyone has to do everything. You have to sing, you have to dance, you have to act, because most of the time you’re understudying someone. So for me, I’ve got to the point in my career where I really only want to take a show if I’m going to cover something that I am excited about, understudy a part I’m excited about. And I think I’ve earned that right since I’ve been doing it for a long time. And with this show, understudying stood out. It was Kelli O’Hara, now it’s Jessie Mueller, and this role they both helped create is the lead role (her name is Billie) and for me it’s like my favorite thing I’ve ever understudied, my favorite thing I’ve gotten to play on stage. I just love this character, and so when I found out that I got the show and was understudying that part which is what I wanted to happen, I knew that it was going to be something that I really was passionate about. That’s really what did it for me. And I love Kathleen Marshall, she’s amazing to work for. She loves her dancers and her performers. And I love the 1920’s, I get to wear a really cute bob every night and a dress that I love. So really it was that part and I’ve been really lucky, I’ve got to go on a ton this year, but it’s such a great part for me. I’ve just connected to it a lot. It had a lot of me in it, and I’m happy about that.

SDD: Going back to Cry-Baby, was it disheartening to see the first original musical you were a part of (in the premiere company) close so soon?

CA: Oh yeah. Like I said, because of doing the workshop and out-of-town and Broadway run, all together it was over a year of work! Just a little bit of time in between those things. Yeah, it’s really hard, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was flaws and we saw flaws. I still think it was better than a lot of people gave it credit for. Honestly, I can tell you it was some of the best dancing I’ve done on stage, and the most fun I’ve ever had on stage as a dancer. That partnering and that choreography was so athletic and sexy and fun, and I laugh though, I think back, though I was much younger, but I think back…had that run longer than three months, I don’t know how that body would be! But it was one of my favorite experiences actually. That cast, we’re all still very, very tight. We hang out, we try to get together and try to do a dinner every now and then. It was a really tight-knit group of people, we had a lot of fun. I just got back from Alii Mauzey’s wedding with Elizabeth Stanley who played the lead girl!

SDD: Do you prefer to work on original pieces, or do you like revivals better?

CA: They both have their pluses and minuses. I’ve done a ton of revivals, and there’s something really lovely about being a part of, especially for me, doing shows like How to Succeed and Promises, Promises and being a “Turkey Lurkey Girl” in Promises, Promises, I’m a massive Donna McKechnie fan; I think she is the greatest. So to get to do a number that she made famous, even though it was different choreography, that was really special. So there’s things about revivals that I love, and there’s a reason they’re all revived. People loved them and they don’t get old and you can add your own little twists to them, and it’s special all over again. For me, also the cool thing about doing something new is that from here on out, whenever Nice Work if You Can Get It gets done regionally, and there’s that girl in the ensemble who maybe has the same mannerisms I have or the same things that I’ve created, and that’s really cool to see that it gets carried on, it’s really special.

SDD: How important are ensembles to you? Do they really become families in the productions you’ve been a part of?

CA: You’re with each other in a tiny room, and our dressing room is so small, and it’s not very glamourous backstage. I don’t know what people who haven’t been backstage imagine it to be like, but it’s like old theaters! The closest friends I’ve met from doing shows, my boyfriend I met from doing a show, we were in the ensemble together. It really does become like a family, it really, really does. And I think now we’re working in a time where the ensembles are smaller because it’s cheaper, producers have smaller ensembles. And like I said before, people really have to be on their A-game and do as much as possible. Look at the cast of Once, that’s a really good example. Those people are playing instruments well enough to be playing them on stage, and making all the music, there’s no other band, they’re making all the music for the Broadway show and singing and dancing and acting and understudying the roles and playing leads. So impressive. And a lot of times, you’ll come out of the stage door and people are being nice but they’ll say, “Oh the background people! You were great!” And you’re like…oh gosh! If only they knew how hard or they’ll say, “Do you guys have to sing?” And you’re like, who do you think is singing?! And it’s not their fault, they don’t know and they just enjoy themselves. But it’s a lot of hard work to be an ensemble member. Anytime but especially in today’s times with a smaller cast, for sure.

SDD: Did you watch Smash while it was on air?

CA: I did some of the time, and I didn’t some of the time. I wasn’t like a huge follower but I definitely did watch because I had tons of friends on it and I’m very proud of Josh Bergasse, we did Hairspray together. Extremely proud of him. And it’s given tons of my friends very steady work, so I thank them for that. But I was not a great follower, I feel pretty guilty for that.

SDD: Sometimes Smash would portray supporting roles and swings to be very minor parts of Broadway productions. How did you feel about that?

CA: I hate that. I honestly hate it. I also hate that they would portray people in the ensemble as like, clawing their way to the top and backstabbing people. I teach a lot now with kids and I get asked about Smash a lot now, and like I said I’m thankful for that show because for about two years it provided very steady work for a ton of people in this community, and it brought attention to the Broadway community, but I don’t like that side of it. I think that everyone plays a role and not everyone can be a star, and be the lead of the show and you have to have other characters, supporting characters, swings and understudies and ensemble members to make up a show, and I don’t like that it talks down that part of it. I actually think that bothered a lot of people. But I think it also still has to be a television show, and there has to be drama and things that go wrong, it’s a television show! It’s how I assume a doctor feels when he or she watches Grey’s Anatomy, it’s the same thing. So it’s got to be heightened, it’s got to be dramatized, it’s TV, so you take it with a grain of salt.

SDD: You’ve shared the stage with John Laroquette and Sean Hayes while they were making their Broadway debuts. What was it like seeing these men who have thrived in the realms of television and film step onto Broadway for the first time while you’ve been doing this for so long and at such a young age?

CA: Sean and I were just emailing the other day, we’re actually very close and I love him so much. I cannot say enough wonderful things about that man, and everyone should know that. But he and John were both so humble, and both amazing in what they did in their parts, especially Sean, he had so much to do in that show and was on stage the entire time. And John was hilarious and he did something different to make him funny with J.B. Biggley, and he had to dance for the first time ever in his entire life, and sing for the first time in his entire life. And Sean has sung before, Sean has a theatrical background and plays concert piano, he’s very musical. John is…not. He worked. As a matter of fact, when he won the Tony Award, he thanked the dance captain in his speech because she worked so hard with him! She got a personal thanks from him in his Tony speech. They were both so humble and wonderful and John Laroquette is extremely dry and sarcastic but very sweet, and Sean is exactly what you’d imagine him to be: the most outgoing personable person. Ever. So I’ve been lucky, I have not worked with any celebrities with any ego whatsoever. Not a one celebrity that I have worked with. Not one. I mean that.

SDD: Who is more fun to play in Nice Work: Jeannie or Billie?

CA: Well it’s hard. I took on the understudy of Jeannie sort of late. Someone left so it was a later addition, I’ve only gotten to actually perform it one time and I was terrified obviously. It’s hard. For me, I am very much a tomboy. I mean I’m not a bootlegger from New York, but I’m a southern tomboy who grew up climbing trees and playing basketball and running around the beach all the time. Outdoors, all the time. So for me, Billie is extremely relatable and like I said, is my favorite thing I’ve ever done on stage. Jeannie was such a good opportunity for me to do the exact opposite of who I am. I mean when else am I going to be a beach blonde with roots and a curvaceous  voluptuous body and really aggressive, I’m not! I’m like the goofy, silly girl, so for me to get to do that was awesome. It stretched me as a performer and taught me something. Watching Robyn Hurder do it every night…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just learn from her and do what she does! She’s amazing. But…I don’t know! I think Billie’s my favorite but I really enjoy Jeannie.

SDD: Do you have any fun understudy stories?

CA: One time I was on the tour of Hairspray and we were in Denver, I think? And I was in my regular ensemble part and at the end of the first number in the second act, one of my best friends in the entire world actually now who was playing Amber von Tussle was actually losing her voice as the show went, and completely lost her voice. So she was out, so they had to get the swing on for me, change my wig, and put that giant, crazy finale wig on me. And I basically, like got thrown on as Amber!  I did “Cooties” and the finale and that was it, and I could see the look on people’s faces in the audience like, “Who is this person? She is not who we’ve seen the entire show!” Yeah, that was sort of crazy because it was pretty quick. I have had some things happen here, like I was on for Billie and there’s a big scene where she’s mad at Matthew Broderick’s character Jimmy and he’s trying to win her back and pulls out a ukelele and plays this really cute, charming song. Well, the ukelele was not set, so he was looking around for it, and he walked off stage and had to go get the ukelele while I was on stage, so I had to improv, stand there…that was pretty hilarious. I’ve definitely fallen on my face on stage, too. That’s happened.

SDD: How does it feel to be at the end of Nice Work‘s run?

CA: Yes and no. I think when we get to that last week. We’re doing a crazy two weeks right now, we’re doing sixteen shows straight through because our schedule is changing, so everybody’s going to be tired this week, and I think when we get to that last week, it’s going to really hit everyone. It’s going to be weird. Honestly. That I think will do it.

SDD: Do your experiences on Broadway ever get tiring, or, as cliche as it sounds, does every night feel like your opening night?

CA: I mean honestly, no it’s not like that every night. I’m doing double duty right now. I’m doing that reading at 10 AM and last until 12:45 and picked up some food and ate it while I was pin-curling, and then was on stage an hour later! It’s so interesting because it’s ultimately such a great job; this is what I’ve wanted to do for most of my life. And I’m getting to do it and made a career out of it so far, and I love it. But yes, you can do a lot of shows in a long time, and obviously you have to work hard to make it different and fresh and new. And that means when you’re backstage and really enjoying your time and having fun and you’re talking and hanging out, you’re having a good time so you’re happy when you go on stage and you’re in a good place. I think it’s unrealistic to say that every night feels great but I’m not going to lie, this is going to sound cliche but every now and then, and it’s almost every show or probably every other show, I have a moment where I look out and I’m like, “I’m on Broadway right now! I am dancing in front of all these people, singing this song, and they’re here to see me do this and to see this great cast do this.” It’s pretty exciting. I allow myself to do that every now and then. It keeps it fresh. But it’s hard, it’s hard! It’s eight shows a wee, it’s a job. It’s a hard job. Hard on the body, for sure. That’s why I’m going to physical therapy!

Cameron Adams. Photo credit: Broadway.com.

Cameron Adams. Photo credit: Broadway.com.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

CA: Oh gosh! Goofy, caring, sassy, hard-working, and lover.

SDD: Who has been your favorite choreographer to work with?

CA: Rob Ashford.

SDD: Describe your following cast members of past and present in one word: Matthew Broderick.

CA: Hilarious.

SDD: Brian d’arcy James.

CA: Oh gosh that’s hard because what I want to say is that I’m in love with him! Can I say…my crush? No. Can I say dreamy? I’m in love with even when he was dressed as Shrek, like madly in love with him. He is the nicest, most talented, wonderful person. Dreamy is my word!

SDD: Kristin Chenoweth.

CA: Oh gosh she’s so wonderful…kind. No that’s a lame word! She’s so wonderful!

SDD: Well that’s a good word!

CA: Yeah, wonderful!

SDD: What’s the last great show that you saw on stage?

CA: Oh gosh I just saw Matilda and I was bawling through the entire thing. I loved every single minute of it, it was incredible. Go see it.

SDD: Who was the last person to make you feel starstruck?

CA: This is going to sound so cheesy but I’m going to say it: my boyfriend. I saw him do a workshop of a show for Kathleen [Marshall] actually, and I had never seen him play a part like this and I was so blown away by his acting, like blown away. And I fell in love all over again, he was so wonderful.

SDD: What’s your most memorable experience with somebody at the stage door?

CA: I think because of starting out really young and doing shows with famous people, I get a lot of girls who see me in different things. And for me I just had recently someone say, “I just love watching you dance, and you make me want to do this. You make it look so fun.” And it just broke my heart. I think because of doing like, The Music Man and Hairspray, more family-type shows, I just get a lot of younger women and people who love it and they get excited when they see the same person in something else. It makes me really happy.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

CA: Right now, I would choose…this is so hard! I would want to be Bertie [Carvel] in Matilda. I think that he is amazing and I would just want to know what it feels like to be that funny and genius.

SDD: Do you have a phrase or motto that you live by?

CA: My dance teacher used to say, “When in doubt, kick and wink!”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.