Tony Award winner urges students to 'live' their dreams

Cary Ashby • Oct 9, 2018 at 2:00 AM

WILLARD — Senior Cassidy Lofland rushed down the hallway of Willard High School to introduce herself to Broadway producer Randy Adams.

Lofland, the daughter of Eric and Alicia, shared her love of the fine arts and her plans for the future with Adams, who smiled pleasantly and asked a few questions.

For a dance enthusiast such as Lofland, Adams — who was born in Willard and graduated from WHS in 1972 — is a bit of celebrity. In 2010, Adams won a Tony Award for best musical for “Memphis,” written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro. Adams was a co-producer.

Lofland, who admittedly was “stoked” to meet Adams, said knowing he is a Willard graduate serves as an inspiration for current students.

That is part of the philosophy behind Willard City Schools, student council and Teen Leadership Corps establishing the Distinguished W Alumni Award

Adams is part of the inaugural class. The other recipients include: retired U.S. Army Col. Daniel Barnett, retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Durr Sr., Willard City Manager Jim Ludban, Jean Murray, an Osman Hooper Award winner for news photography, and retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former prisoner of war, Richard Vogel.

The recipients were honored during a Sept. 28 ceremony in the high school auditeria followed by a reception. The alumni also were recognized at halftime of the homecoming football game that evening. 

English teacher Courtney Carnahan, an award committee member, said the recipients can serve as role models to students, showing them that anybody who walks the halls of Willard schools “can be successful as well.”

“We want the kids to have people to look up to,” she added.

Adams was surprised when he heard he was part of the inaugural class.

“The fact that they have included someone from the arts in that first class is totally important to me. I was stunned because I think it’s fantastic the school thinks the arts are still important,” he said. “A lot of schools don’t any more. The fact that they included me and I was recognized for what I did in theater is good.”


Back in Willard

Adams spoke to several classes, administrators and teachers the morning before being honored as one of the first Distinguished W Alumni Award winners.

“It’s great to come back,” he said.

Adams was about 9 years old when the theater bug first hit him.

“Well, it’s my brother’s fault really,” he said. “At some point our parents said, ‘You have to get dressed up. We have to go this event at the school.’ We’re like, ‘Oh jeez.’”

Randy’s older brother Tom played King Mongut of Siam in “The King and I,” the role made famous by Yul Brynner.

“It was the first time I had ever been to a show. I was sitting there watching it, going ‘I could do this,’” Adams said. “So from then on, it was like, ‘How do I do that?’ … So by the time I got to high school, I was doing everything I could.”

At Willard, Adams performed in productions directed by Gordon Jack Miller. They included: “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The Music Man,” “Brigadoon,” “West Side Story” and “The Mikado.”

“The big thing that many people remember me for (was when) I played Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ my senior year,” Adams said.

While he has performed in a lot of musicials, he has been in plays also.

“For about 30 years, I would do both,” Adams said. “Currently all I do is musicals. My work on Broadway has all been about original musicals — creating things that didn’t exist before.”

He is a founding partner of Junkyard Dog Productions, which calls itself “a theatrical producing company dedicated to the development and production of new musical theater.” Junkyard Dog Productions is based out of New York City.


Talking about ‘Memphis’

“Memphis” is loosely based on Memphis, Tenn. disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play “black music” in the 1950s.

“Dewey Phillips was the first guy to put Elvis on the radio. This is really about his story, fictionally. It was about how that music basically brought those cultures together in Memphis,” said Adams, who believes that brought a lot of healing. “It just got in people’s souls.”

Adams was responsible for putting together the entire “Memphis” production — from raising money to assembling the creative team and overseeing marketing. It won Tonys for best musical, best book (the non-musical portion of the show), best score and best orchestrations.

“David Bryan is the keyboardist for Bon Jovi,” Adams said, referring to one of the “Memphis” writers. “(DiPietro) has written a lot of plays.”

In addition to the four Tonys, the show earned four Drama Desk awards, including best musical, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including best musical.

“We were thrilled the show was doing great. We were having a great time. We were nominated for all these Tonys. Did we think we were going to win? No. Did we think we could win? Yes,” the soft-spoken Adams said modestly during his recent visit to Willard.


Accepting his Tony, living one’s dreams

“I actually walked up on stage and picked up the Tony,” said Adams, who was asked about the June 13, 2010 experience. “It was pretty crazy.”

People have asked the Willard graduate if he has seen that award acceptance on YouTube.

“I was like, ‘I don’t need to watch it; I lived it. What are you talking about? It was amazing,’” he said with a chuckle.

Adams recalled a funny moment while waiting for the announcement of the best musical winner in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“That’s always the last award of the night,” he said. “Right before they’re going to give us the award, they go to commercial. The world is off watching commericals. In the hall, they come over the God mic and go, ‘OK, whoever wins the Tony Award; we’re running late, (so) you need to get off the stage as fast as you can.’ So literally, that’s what’s going through my mind.

Actress Bernadette Peters announced the best-musical nominees. 

“Then she’s pausing. It feels like an hour. Finally, she announces ‘Memphis.’ I just fly out of my seat (and) run up. People always say, they heard ‘Oh my god, ‘oh my god,’; that’s me getting up to the stage and then accepting the award,” Adams said.

On the telecast, he’s only visible for a short time before it cuts away to the “Memphis” cast performing.

“You don’t see me very long, but it’s fantastic,” Adams said.

Adams was asked what advice he would have for young people who want to follow their interest in theater.

“I told the last class, ‘If you have a dream, just live it.’ I have been very blessed; I got to live my dream. I’ve gotten to work in theater all my life. I love it and I never got to think of it as a job; it’s just what I do,” he said.

“And that’s what you should do; you should do whatever is going to make you happy.”

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