Nick Adams and J. Elaine Marcos talk to us about playing Adam/Felicia and Cynthia
They both wear outrageous colorful and eye-popping costumes and dance and sing their hearts out in the entertaining Broadway production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical. What are the challenges of performing in a high-energy, quick-costume-changing, and visually stunning musical? We schmooze about that and lots more!
Joel: What is Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical about?
Nick: It’s about three friends looking for love, family, and acceptance.
J. Elaine: From Cynthia’s point of view, well …according to her, everything is about her.
But Cynthia is this mail-order-bride stuck in a the middle of nowhere and all she wants to do is be free from this boring life she has with her husband Bob. Priscilla (who is actually a bus and not a person) represents a chance for Cynthia to get out. Metaphorically, the bus represents a journey that we all go thru. It might not be about the destination, but how one gets from one place to another.
Why did you want to play the roles of Felicia and Cynthia?
Nick: It’s a leading role in a new Broadway show. What musical theatre actor wouldn’t want to? It’s a role that really calls upon all the criteria of musical theatre.
J. Elaine: Cynthia captures everything that I (deep down) love to do. Be over the top, be shockingly silly, and sing with a Filipino accent.
How did you get the role of Cynthia?
J. Elaine: To be honest, most of my auditions been like Cynthia’s number: unexpected, comedic with random but strong choices all the while singing a 16 bar cut of a musical song. I don’t think it’s a wonder Telsey (casting office) thought of me for this role because for a while, all I did was sing in an accent for many shows they cast me in. For instance, in The Wedding Singer, I played Imelda Marcos.
How did you prepare for your roles?
Nick: I worked on the material with some great acting teachers/directors and dialect coaches. I really tried to bring in something specific and personal. I am like Adam/Felicia, because he uses what he’s got to get what he wants.
J. Elaine: I had already prepared my whole life for this role. It required me to literally impersonate my Mom and so no rehearsal was really necessary. Her mannerisms and speech patterns were burned in my brain!
You recently opened the show on Broadway. What are your favorite memories from Opening Night?
Nick: Feeling completely fearless the moment I stepped onstage. Looking out into the crowd while riding the silver shoe over the audience and catching my mother’s face. Looking in Will Swenson’s eyes when we were entering for the finale and bursting into tears. Taking my bow during the curtain call.
J. Elaine: Joan Rivers coming up to me and telling me she thought I was “funny”!!! I’ll take that. I also loved putting on this gorgeous Reem Acra dress that was so gorgeous and fun to wear. It was nice to wear something other than the same old Gap sweats.
You both appeared in Toronto with the show before it moved to Broadway. What changes did they make in Toronto and for this production at The Palace in NYC, and how do you think these changes help the Broadway production?
Nick: We established a more appropriate opening number with better story telling. It’s clear what the focus of the story is from the get go. We also tightened some dialogue and jokes.
Any changes to your character, songs or costumes?
Nick: They allowed me to infuse the role with a youthful jovial quality. I have some new custom shoes, a new Barbie outfit, and we made a bigger ending on “Like A Prayer”.
J. Elaine: They did add Zebra print to my leggings and arm bands. In the movie, Cynthia comes in wearing a Zebra hat so I think they wanted that “animal-like” presence still to be apart of the costume. They didn’t change much with my number. I just got notes to try some different things on different lines, and I actually love doing that anyway. I prefer to change things often so I still feel “in the moment”. I still have yet to have a back to my dress. I still wear a front apron, bra and panties.
What was the best advice Director Simon Phillips gave you on performing the role of Cynthia?
J. Elaine: Best advice Simon gave me was, “Have fun!” He really let me play and find different things, and I am so grateful for that.
How many costumes do you wear, how many dressers do you have, and what’s your favorite costume?
Nick: I think I have about 21 costume changes. I have a dresser who is with me the entire show, but we sometimes have 4 people hidden in the bus helping me make a quick change. My favorite is the silver suit I wear atop the shoe.
J. Elaine: Just nine costumes (one being a paintbrush and another being the Star of David) I only have one dresser. My track isn’t as difficult as the others – thank goodness – so I’m not running around like crazy going from Cupcake to drag to paintbrush to flying in the air etc. My favorite costume is definitely Cynthia’s “Pop Muzik” costume. It’s actually very comfortable for a lingerie costume, and I love the Zebra print – it just makes me laugh.
Where do they keep all those 500 costumes?
Nick: Anywhere they find room. Most of them are flown in the wings above us.
Talk about working with your fellow travelers: Tony Sheldon, who has played the role of Bernadette since the show’s premiere in Australia, and Will Swenson (Tick/Mitzi)?
Nick: They are a dream team. I love those men like family. We are a family. The chemistry onstage is so true because we are thick as thieves offstage. I have never worked with such encouraging, inspiring actors. They make me better every night.
How has Tony helped you with playing Adam/Felicia?
Nick: The dynamic between those characters is very crucial. They have to maintain a witty banter, play and feed off one another but also care for one another. Playing off of Tony’s energy really informed me in a lot of my choices with Adam.
There is a scene where you sing ‘Sempre Libera’ on top of Priscilla (the bus you travel in). Whose voice are you lip synching to? [See a picture of Nick singing ‘Sempre Libera’ here]
Nick: It’s an Australian recording from Verdi’s La Traviata.
Your 11:00 number “Pop Muzik” is a real ‘scene stealer’. What’s the song about?
J. Elaine: What IS the song about??? When you really think of it….the lyrics are ridiculous! I take it as Cynthia is just copying everything she’s seen on TV or the movies or in magazines that are Pop culture references and she puts them all together in a dance number and adds her true talent which is shooting ping pong balls.
Describe that “Pop Muzik” scene for us.
J. Elaine: I enter by busting thru the door holding my boombox playing “Pop Muzik”. I make my way to the stage area, kick the other Drag Queens off the stage and perform the number as Cynthia has rehearsed it several times and ends with ping pongs balls flying. Do I need to say anymore?
Most people don’t know that you are a male soprano and understudied the role of Mary Sunshine in Chicago, in NYC and in the International tour. When did you realize you had this unique voice and where did you get your vocal training?
Nick: I was a child soprano and that voice never seemed to go away when my voice changed. I trained with a classical voice teacher at The Boston Conservatory while earning my BFA.
What do you remember about the first time you stepped onto a Broadway stage?
Nick: Thinking to myself that I was living my dream. That all the work and sacrifice was worth it.
What do you remember about your Broadway debut – opening night at The Broadway Theatre playing Yvonne in Miss Saigon in 1991?
J. Elaine: It’s kind of a blur. I mainly remember going to the callback on stage at the Broadway Theatre and just thinking OMG! I WANT THIS!
You appeared as Connie in the 2005 revival of A Chorus Line. How did you relate to Connie?
J. Elaine: Well, Connie is a short Asian female Broadway gypsy who has gone from show to show and if it wasn’t an “Asian” musical, she’d normally be the token Asian so in those aspects I can relate too her.
Did you work with Nick when he played Larry, and if you did, what do you remember about Nick’s performance as Larry?
J. Elaine: Oh my Nick, I loved working with him and still do! We only had one moment written in the show where Connie asks Larry if we could sit down and (I know this is slightly unprofessional) but I would subtly try to do anything with that line to make him laugh. Also, to keep the show fresh each night, Nick would give the cast a theme for the evening and while dancing the opening number, we would try to incorporate that theme somehow. (I can’t believe I am admitting that, but I think I am safe from getting notes at this point!)
As for Nick’s performance as Larry he was perfect! As an assistant to Zach his dancing was exactly what a Larry should be. You just came out of La Cage aux Folles where you played Angelique – one of the Cagelles. Did playing a Cagelle help you with your performance of Felicia?
Nick: It was a great training ground. I learned what it’s like to physically transform yourself for a role and what it feels like to be in drag. It allows you to have a different confidence. I definitely took that with me.
How would you describe the score of Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical?
J. Elaine: The score of the show consists of songs that everyone knows and loves and works ingeniously with the book. Also, there are times when only a few lines go by before another production number happens so it’s non-stop. The show doesn’t apologize or justify too much why there is another big production number. This is Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical and if we want to do a number, we do a number!! That’s what makes everything so fun! The choreography compliments the songs and the costumes by not being too difficult. At times, when one wears a cupcake or is flying in the air, there can only be so much movement. The choreography is specific and is there to tell the story and paint (literally in one scene since we are dressed as paintbrushes) the picture that the songs dictate.
What’s your favorite song you get to sing, which dance is your favorite and which is the most physically difficult to perform?
Nick: I love them all! It’s hard to pick favorites, but singing “Like A Prayer” at the end of the show is both rewarding and demanding. It’s physically difficult to sing and dance that song while wearing that headdress and those shoes. But it’s worth it!
J. Elaine: Other than “Pop Muzik” my favorite number is the funeral scene. It’s the first number where the whole company is on stage and with all the costumes being so different it’s fun to play off each other in our different characters. I can’t say it’s really difficult, just a lot of cardio especially “Color My World” and the paint brush number. It’s hard to see your feet sometimes or the end of the stage because of the costumes, but nothing is as hard as the opening number of A Chorus Line or standing for two hours on a line, so I really can’t complain…and I won’t. I’m lucky, really.
With injuries to the cast of Spider-Man making headlines in the NYC press and on the theatre blogs, what has Priscilla done to ensure the safety of the performers like you who are ‘airborne’?
Nick: Our flying is basic and effective. We have a wonderful crew that makes us feel very confident.
You grew up in Erie, PA where I lived for a while, and where my father was a Cantor in a synagogue. So how did a nice guy from Erie make it to Broadway?
Nick: I started performing at the Erie Playhouse community theatre when I was 9. I danced at the Lake Erie Ballet and the Little Dance Studio. I attended Mercyhurst Preparatory School then went off to earn a BFA in theatre from Boston Conservatory of Music.
Where did you get your theater training, and what is your first memory of stepping onto and performing on stage?
J. Elaine: I was about nine in a jazz dance class and I liked performing on stage and it felt good. As a kid, all you want to do is do what’s fun. Dancing was fun. Piano was NOT.
I trained in Burlington ON Canada and took Jazz. I remember making up dance numbers with my cousins (we were 10 or so) and we would perform at nursing homes, hospitals, picnics…..and we called ourselves ‘The Illusions’. We had jackets and everything. I guess it’s not a surprise I am in this field, because I’ve been entertaining and being asked to entertain always. Even when I was home in Toronto in Priscilla, my Dad wanted to know if I was able to do some comedy at his University Reunion!!! “Dad, I’m in a show that night!!”
You have both appeared in some hits. Nick, you played playing Larry in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, Angelique in this year’s Tony Award winning revival of La Cage aux Folles, and Mary Sunshine in Chicago. J. Elaine, you played Connie in the revival of A Chorus Line, and Yvonne in Miss Saigon.
You’ve both also appeared in some shows that closed early. Nick, you were in The Pirate Queen – where you appeared in the ensemble. It closed after 85 performances – and in the 2009 revival of Guys and Dolls – where you played Liver Lips Louie – closed after 113 performances. J. Elaine, you appeared in The Wedding Singer in 2006, where you played Imelda Marcos, and it had an 8 month run, and the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song where you played Mme. Liang, and it had a short run of 163 performances.
Why would anyone want to be involved in this roller-coaster of a career?
Nick: I think it’s exciting. I love the ups and downs. It makes life that much more vibrant.
J. Elaine: There is not doubt there are lows and highs, so you really have to keep the faith. Why would anyone want to be involved in this career? Well, the highs are so high you can barely take it sometimes and all you want to do is have that feeling again. Actually, if you look at child who performs one or two nights of their high school musical and look into their eyes at the end of their run, you will see excitement and passion and quite often tears follow because they know that their show has ended and they want to have that amazing feeling of performing again. That is why people like me keep coming back. Why wouldn’t you do something you absolutely love?
Why do you think The Pirate Queen lasted for only 85 performances?
Nick: It was one of the best years of my life. I love that company and have remained friends with those people. I loved the score and the heart of that show. It’s always a gamble with a new Broadway show.
Why do you think Flower Drum Song – which was a huge hit that extended several times in LA – that received rave reviews from the LA critics – received such a cold reception from the NYC critics and theatergoers?
J. Elaine: I think perhaps marketing is a huge aspect of the success of musicals. I really loved doing that show, and as long as people were in the audience they loved it. We just needed them to get in there.
Nick, you have given your time to so many charities in the NYC area – including Broadway Cares, Broadway Bares, Gypsy of the Year, and Easter Bonnet. Why is it so important for you to make time with your extremely busy schedule to support these charities?
Nick: They are necessary causes and I think it’s our responsibility as performers to donate our time and talents to help others.
You also have worked with Live Out Loud. Tell us about the organization, and why this organization is so important to you. As a gay man who had a difficult time coming out to a religious family, I want to thank you for being a part of this program.
Nick: Thank you. I am a huge fan of their work and was more than happy to get involved. Live Out Loud puts LGBT youth in schools in touch with LGBT mentors who can inspire them and help them find their own voice. I was asked to host their annual spring gala where they award scholarships to 4 students who have made a difference in their community by making progress for LGBT teens.
J. Elaine, you’ve done a lot of television work, appearing in “30 Rock”, “Royal Pains” and “Rescue Me”. Tell me about the characters you played, and which character was your favorite to play and why?
J. Elaine: On “Rescue Me” I played a “Lipstick Lesbian” and my scene was simple and fun. I love being on a set like that being allowed to play with people who you love to watch on TV. It was an easy day to shoot that quick scene and ideally if I had a show to go to everyday, I would want it to be on a set like that.
Nick, you had a ‘brief’ encounter as a model, are in great shape, and you have been called “The Best Bod on Broadway”. How is appearing in Priscilla affecting your daily work-out routine? Are you doing anything special because of the demands of the show?
Nick: I’m eating more. I’ve lost so much weight from performing the role. I was asked to lose a bit of muscle for the part, so doing the show has helped that process.
J. Elaine, you worked with Next to Normal’s J. Robert Spencer on the film “Farm Girl in New York“. Tell us about the film and the experience of working with J. Robert. I hear it’s going to be released on DVD. When will that happen?
J. Elaine: Farm Girl in New York was released beginning of February and it’s out, RENT IT! I’ve worked with J. Robert years ago at the Old Globe in San Diego on a fun musical called Lucky Duck. I always thought J. Robert was talented and ridiculously funny! When I was asked to join “Farm Girl” in this weird role of “sock-puppet girl”, I was honored. I love playing roles that allow you to be a cartoon in the real world. I was so happy that J. Robert gave me that role and when I watch that movie over again, I think “damn these guys are funny”. Jeffrey Schecter (another Broadway alumni and great friend) wrote it with J. Robert and there is something about putting people who have great chemistry together off screen and then letting them play on screen. It really reads.
You are a great improv/stand up comedian, and you hold seminars about how to ‘make it’ as an actor, comedian, TV, and film star. When did you first become interested in improv, and were you always funny? Where have you performed stand-up, and when and where will you be holding your next seminar?
J. Elaine: It came up one time in an acting class and I realized that the less I think about things, some miraculous ideas come about. In a sense, I get out of my own way and the real me can come thru (deep I know but it’s true) When it comes to auditions, I think Improv is the best way to prepare for that difficult process. You never really know what is going to happen in auditions, on stage or in life and in a way, Improv prepares you to be prepared for anything.
Did I always know I was funny? No. Do I think I am funny? No. Do I think I am honest? Yes. Truth comes out in comedy and I think if I really am in the moment and try not to push comedy, things come across as funny. The hardest thing to watch is something thinking “be funny be funny” then they come across looking like “The Situation” from the Jersey Shore trying to comedy at a Comedy Central Roast. I recommend people watch good and bad comedy so that you can see what NOT to do.
I love your “Rice Sisters” video. It’s hysterical! Going to do anymore Rice Sisters videos?
J. Elaine: Hmm….maybe, haven’t thought of it.
Tell me something about you that only family and close friends know.
Nick: If it’s something that only my family and friends know, then they are the only ones that probably should know.
J. Elaine: Well, I was the student council President at my High School but the only reason I ran for Prez was because I loved making up speeches and skits for the elections, and I was guaranteed a packed house because the whole school had to attend. But did I like to really organize the student body council? NO! Was I an audience whore? YES!
What advice would you give a young dancer, singer, actor, or comedian who is considering a career in the theatre, film, or Improv?
Nick: Never stop training. Get into as many classes as you can! Only go after it if you can’t imagine life without it.
J. Elaine: As long as you LOVE doing it and you cannot think of doing anything else, then do it. Always remember why you love performing and don’t stop. Take Improv because it’s the scariest thing to do (still scares me every time) but it really steps up your game in the competition. And just be you and love yourself. Trust and breathe. That’s what I try to do everyday.
Why should DC area and NYC theatergoers come to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical?
Nick: It’s a beautiful show with something for everyone. Great music, great heart, great costumes, and a great message!
Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical plays at The Palace Theatre – 1564 Broadway (between 46th and 47th Streets) in New York City. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to the show’s website.
Here’s a video of with Nick and Tony Sheldon backstage at The Palace Theatre.
Listen to Nick sing “A Little Bit of Good” from Chicago.
Nick Adams’ website.
J. Elaine Marcos’ website.