What do Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, and Next to Normal all have in common? Lighting designer Kevin Adams. Widely regarded as contributing factors to the evolution of the American musical, these shows all have creative teams that have collaborated on subsequent projects, but Adams is the only one to have worked on all three. The Tony-winning lighting designer brought revolutionary looks to these acclaimed productions with his use of bare light bulbs and fluorescent tubes—what he calls “electric objects.” Now Adams is nominated for his fifth Tony award (he won for Spring Awakening and The 39 Steps) for his work on American Idiot, which blends the creative teams of all three rock musicals.
Yet Adams, just shy of 48, says lighting was never a thought in his mind during his education. With an MFA in set design, Adams began working as a set designer in Los Angeles, when he was asked to do his own lighting. Local artists who had seen his work began asking him to light their pieces in galleries. A self-taught lighting designer, Adams then moved to New York to focus solely on that work. “I can’t believe I’m still doing this,” Adams said. “After I do a Broadway show, I think, ‘This will surely be the last one I ever do. No one’s going to come up with another Broadway show that suits what I do.’ But then American Idiot came along.”
The Tony winner (who keeps his two awards at his parents’ houses, claiming they make him nervous) invited Stage Rush into his Manhattan apartment to discuss Tony nominations, his style departure on American Idiot, and what happened when he first met Green Day in a cramped dressing room at Saturday Night Live.
This is your fifth Tony nomination and you’ve won twice. Is it still exciting to get nominated?
It is very exciting. It was exciting to be nominated twice last year. It’s exciting to be nominated for American Idiot. That first time [being nominated], you’re so excited to win and then once you win, then you feel you have to win again. You feel like, “I want to win!”
So you feel pressure to win?
I don’t feel pressure; it’s just that you become much more grotesquely competitive about it. [laughs] And I know other people who have won that agree and say, “Yeah, I’ve felt that way too!” It’s not that it’s competitive, it’s just that the first time you’re nominated, you’re like, “It would be cool to win,” and then the next time, you’re like, “I’ve got to win!”