How fitness and Facebook made a drag queen out of Nick Adams
Nick Adams nearly didn’t play Felicia in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, the role that has made him a fan favorite on Broadway. Casting directors originally planned to make Adams an understudy for the role of the young, mischievous drag queen. But then Facebook lent a hand.
Fans of Adams created a Facebook group, lobbying for his casting in the role, a la the social media campaign to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live last year. “The producers actually noticed that people were pushing for me and they paid attention to it,” Adams said. “It’s amazing that the people who have been supportive are able to come celebrate this triumph with me.” It seems the celebration has turned into a never-ending party. Adams has over five thousand followers on Twitter and Priscilla enjoys repeat ticket buyers who have seen the show dozens of times since it opened in March.
Since making his Broadway debut in Chicago in 2006, Adams, 27, has hit the Great White Way running. His second role as Larry in the revival of A Chorus Line in 2008 got him massive attention, although unintended. Michael Riedel of The New York Post reported that TV star Mario Lopez felt upstaged by Adams’ muscular physique, so producers put him in a less revealing costume and moved him to the back of the dance line. The story was harped on in the gossip columns and tabloids for weeks, but soon all Broadway enthusiasts knew Adams’ name. (Adams and Lopez have since laughed off the incident and are reportedly friends.) A brief stint in the ensemble of the critically acclaimed La Cage aux Folles last spring followed, and then Priscilla’s stiletto heels were ready to be filled.
Video: Nick Adams on his emotional connection to Priscilla and award season nerves
The new musical, which focuses on three drag queens on a road trip through the Australian outback, is set to a score of dance classics and has a tone hyper enough to make a dent on the Richter scale. Adams is meant to be the wildest of the bunch, which requires his disposition to be permanently switched to that of an entire kindergarten class on a sugar high.
Aside from taking a shower before curtain to perk up, Adams uses the first 10 minutes of the show, in which he is off stage, listening to the response of the audience to amp up his energy. His entrance involves taking the lead in the production number for Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
“My first number is just like being shot out of a canon,” Adams said. “I get lowered onto the stage and… that sets the tone for my character right away. It’s such a thrill to get lowered in from the rafters every day. As soon as the spotlight hits me, something takes over and I don’t feel tired until the show is over. And then I crash.”
Despite the role involving less dancing than he’s normally required to perform, Adams said Priscilla is his most physically demanding show to date. There isn’t any downtime for Adams during the show’s duration, and he noted that as a blessing for maintaining his endurance. Adams referenced the performance’s strain on his body and discussed the injuries he’s incurred in previous shows. Early into his run in A Chorus Line, Adams sprained his ankle, which left him in a boot and out of the show for weeks. Later in the same production, he broke a rib while dancing, and broke the same rib again in La Cage. Adams said the injury was due to the corsets the ensemble had to wear, which applied extreme pressure to his rib cage for much of the show. “People think the dancing looks so fun and carefree, but there actually is so much physical work that goes into it,” Adams said. “I’ve bitten the dust before and gotten a black eye. In Priscilla, I constantly cut myself on random things on stage and there’s blood all over my costume. I look down and think, ‘What the hell did I do?’”
Keeping fit is crucial for an actor to ward off performance-related injuries, but Adams’ level of fitness has made him a sex symbol and given him a reputation for having one of the best bodies on Broadway. However, Adams said his habits have drastically changed for Priscilla. “I find that I can’t really work out a lot with this show, or I’m not able to feel like I’m giving my best performance,” Adams said. “If I did what I did for La Cage, I wouldn’t have the energy. La Cage wanted me to be this out-of-place, muscular-looking guy in a dress. For Priscilla, they asked me to slim down and lean out a bit so that I wasn’t so bulky.”
Keeping weight on has always been a struggle for Adams. He lost 10 pounds during rehearsals for Priscilla and now weighs in at 169. Currently, he goes to the gym before every show to limber up as to avoid injury. Adams has found a balance for making his body feel the most natural, but he said that wasn’t always the case. “I obviously do weight lift to look like my type, because my body wants to be 150 pounds, so I have to constantly work against my genetics,” Adams said. During the 2009 revival of Guys and Dolls, Adams played a boxer in the opening scene and had to put on pounds of muscle for the cameo. “I tried to put on a lot of size. I was constantly eating until I felt like I was going to throw up,” Adams said. “I was drinking protein shakes and working out like crazy. My body didn’t feel right. I feel more like I’m where my body wants to live right now.”
When it comes to his diet, Adams sticks to a high intake of protein through meat sources. (When asked, Adams said he couldn’t even think about the vegetarian/vegan route.) Despite his role weighing heavily on his physique, Adams enjoys his favorite indulgence—carbohydrates, such as pasta and pizza. “People hate to hear this, but I can eat an entire pizza after a show and it really wouldn’t make a difference,” Adams said with a laugh.
However, Adams admits he feels pressure. “In the show, I don’t really wear a lot of clothes, and this business is a lot about appearance,” Adams said. “Over the last six years, I got a lot of attention for my physique, so it is an extra pressure I put on myself to live up to the idea of what I’m going to look like is. That’s something I deal with. It’s day to day. Some days I feel like I don’t care and then other days I’m obsessive about it. It’s just the nature of it.”
At this point in the interview, Adams, normally friendly and laid back, showed a moment of introspection that reflected a scene in Priscilla where his character Felicia (whose given name is Adam) is beaten by a rugged bar crowd. Adams said the scene brings a much-needed shock to the show, grounding its spectacle. “I’ve never been physically assaulted or gay bashed in that sense, but I’ve been confronted on the streets,” Adams said. He recalled being bullied at school and followed home by aggressors. “The moment in the show when the bus gets defaced, there are specific memories I think of in that moment that take me right back to those emotions of being angry and being humiliated. I try to call upon that.”
For Adams, Priscilla has become equally as emotional as it is physical, and he has no intentions of exiting. When asked about his contract and if he would extend it, Adams confidently replied that he would stay with Priscilla for as long as possible. With a sly smile and a laugh that reflected his character Felicia, Adams said, “I want to be 45 years old and still playing this role.”
What do you think of Nick Adams’ story, Rushers? Were you surprised to know the details behind Adams’ fitness? How about how he brings Felicia to life every performance? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV for a fascinating segment with Adams about how actors are perceived in show business.