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Willard grad co-produces best musical on Broadway

Aaron Krause • Aug 23, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Willard High School graduate Randy Adams feels he just got his first big break.

When your first big break is co-producing the Tony Award winning best musical on Broadway, that's a nice one to have.

"Memphis" is the first musical Adams has produced on Broadway. He accepted the award at the annual Tony Awards telecast, held this year on June 13 at New York City's Radio City Music Hall.

"I was thrilled, just happy," said Adams, a 1972 Willard graduate who is easy-going, modest and quick with a laugh.

"Memphis" captured the top musical prize during the 2010 Tony Awards telecast, which recognizes the best of Broadway for the year just completed. The musical is set during segregation and centers on a white radio DJ who wants to chance the world and a black club singer ready for her big break. "Memphis" beat out three other musicals for the top musical prize. The show also won Tonys for Best Book (the non-musical portion of the show), best score and best orchestrations. In addition to its Tony awards, "Memphis" captured four Drama Desk awards, including for Best Musical and four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical.

"I think it's a great story (showing that) one person can make a difference in the world," said Adams, a 1972 Willard graduate. The score, consisting of original songs, "evokes that period of time" he added, referring to segregation.

"It's a particularly well put together musical and the performances are amazing," Adams said.

And as one of the producers, Adams was responsible for putting together the entire production, from raising money, assembling the creative team and overseeing marketing.

Adams credited those that worked on the production for its success.

He said as the Tony Award winning best musical, "Memphis" is likely one of the toughest tickets to get on Broadway. However, a CD featuring the original Broadway cast recording is available at the Norwalk Public Library. And "Memphis" will start touring the country in October 2011, Adams said.

But right now, "Memphis" is "doing great" at the box office and ticket sales have remained steady. While the musical wasn't selling out all the time, that could change now that it's won the Tony, Adams said.

The musical began its initial reading at TheatreWorks -- a professional theater in California which Adams ran for 21 years and produced some 250 shows. The show was fully produced for the stage in 2004. After that, it got optioned by a Broadway producer. But, due to personal issues involving that producer, the project was delayed. In 2007, "Memphis" was about to come out of option. Adams and a business partner were starting up Junkyard Dog Productions, their production company and the two became interested in taking "Memphis" to Broadway. They sat down with the authors "and the rest is history," Adams said.

"I think probably this is my big break," Adams said.

He also credited his tenure at TheatreWorks, where he "met a lot of great people."

Then there was Gordon Jack Miller, a drama teacher Adams had all four years at Willard High School, where he portrayed major roles on stage.

"He was one of those great people that inspired you to do your best," Adams said.

When Adams left high school, he wanted to be an actor. He said his parents, Betty and the late George Baxter, "were unbelievably supportive" regarding his study and career options.

"I have four sons and they've all done good but I'm so happy for him," Betty Baxter said. "I just kept praying a lot and they worked hard for (the Tony)."

Baxter watched the Tony Awards and was "thrilled to death" to see her son accept the award. She fought back tears as she said her friends taped the telecast so she can see it again.

Has she seen "Memphis?" She will when it comes to the area.

"If I'm lucky I'll be there," she said.

He graduated from Otterbein College with a major in theater and minor in education. He also earned a masters in directing from The University of Kansas.

In addition to working at TheatreWorks, Adams produced some shows Off-Broadway, taught theater and worked at a theater in Virginia for five years.

It's all a far cry from the young boy who reluctantly attended "The King and I," which his older brother, Tom, was appearing in.

But that experience led to a life-long love of theater.

"I just loved the magic of it," he said. "It's like creating this whole world; you got to go someplace else without going anywhere."

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