Saturday, March 1, 2008

Path to stardom: from tap dancing pig to superstar

It’s all there – the acting, the singing the dancing. All the skills Amy Adams once showcased on the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres stage are now on the silver screen in the winter blockbuster “Enchanted.”

“What you see in “Enchanted,” is so much of what she would do in musical theater,” said Tony Vierling, who acted beside Adams on the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres stage, and remains friends. “She’s very committed to what she does. She gives 110 percent,” Vierling said.

Adams’ work in “Enchanted” paid off, and she was recently nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress in a comedy or musical.

Adams may now best be known as Giselle, the Disney princess she plays in “Enchanted,” but a decade ago, she was earning her stripes performing in roles ranging from a flapper (see above picture of Amy in 1998 ) to a tap dancing pig.

Yep, a tap dancing pig – the first scene in the musical “State Fair.” She was in four main stage performances at the theater from 1996 to 1998.

In the mid-1990s, Michael Brindisi, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres artistic director, traveled to a Colorado theater production of “Crazy for You,” scouting for a male lead.

Brindisi and his choreographer didn’t find what they were looking for.He leaned over to discuss the issue with his choreographer. “He said, ‘I like that girl playing Patsy.’ I said, ‘Me too.’ It was a minor role, and she was just … she just glowed,” Brindisi recalled.

“Every time she walked on stage, you’d just start watching her. It was a very small part. She just took over the stage. She was beautiful and talented and funny and had this little comic role.”

When the actress who played Patsy in the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres production left the show, “immediately Amy came to mind,” Brindisi said. “She came in and took over the part.”

It didn’t take too much convincing, Brindisi recalled. “It wasn’t tough. She was trying to make a career as an actress. She was unemployed and needed the work, and we were a reputable dinner theater on the dinner theater circuit,” Brindisi said.

“I just remember her being very excited to be here and fitting right in. And she was extremely fun to be around, and people loved her in the dressing room and she got along with everybody,” Brindisi said. “And right after (“Crazy for you”) we did State Fair and cast Amy as the pig.” Brindisi recalled that she later said, “I had to come to Minnesota to be a pig.” (The newspaper was unable to contact Adams through her publicist’s office.)

Getting along with other actors can be as important as acting, Brindisi said. And navigating personalities in women’s dressing room can be “tricky,” he said, especially since a Chanhassen show can run for up to a year.

However, Adams got along with everybody, he said. “She was more like a clown and was a really enjoyable person to have around,” he said.

“She was a free spirit,” Vierling recalled. When it comes to her roles at the dinner theater, Brindisi glows at the thought of Adams in “Brigadoon.”

Brindisi’s daughter, Cat, was 6 years old when she appeared in “Brigadoon.” He keeps a production photo of Adams holding his daughter in her arms. “I look at it every day,” he said.

Vierling played Adams’ jilted lover in the show. There was a turbulent scene between the two on stage. “It was violent, but we had a connection,” he said. “We had to develop a lot of trust.”

“She had a beautiful blue dress, pale blue and all embroidered,” recalled Kris Howland, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Public Relations director, of the “Brigadoon” role. “When she danced it was a sight to behold. It literally gave you goose bumps. When I saw her perform in that show, I knew there was something extra special about her,” Howland said.

While performing in “Brigadoon,” Adams received a five-week leave to perform in “Drop Dead Gorgeous.” The locally-filmed movie included big-name actresses Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst and Denise Richards.

Buoyed by her film experience, Adams decided to move to California to seek a film career. She left during the run of “Good News.”

“I was thrilled. I could see she had a big star coming,” Brindisi said.

While “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” has already been forgotten in the dustbin of film history, Adams’ star has steadily risen. She has performed in numerous television shows and movies, including a small acting role beside Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me if You Can.”

Then, in 2006, Adams was nominated for best supporting actress Academy Award for her performance in “Junebug,” shooting her into the stratosphere.

The last time Vierling spoke with Adams, she relayed how strange it was to be cast as a real princess, when all preceding Disney princess had been animated. “When she’s walking down the street, or trying to get a hamburger, people think she’s a Disney princess. Children think she’s a princess,” Vierling said. “She said it’s very odd. People treat her much differently now. It’s a really strange feeling (for her).”

Vierling said that bits of the real Adams appear in “Junebug” and “Catch Me if You Can,” where she played humble characters. “She’s a beautiful girl, but she’s really down-to-earth. She’s not a big glamour girl in real life,” Vierling said.

Adams is currently filming a movie with Meryl Streep. “She’ll call and say ‘I’m out of my league. I can’t believe I’m in rehearsal with Meryl Steep.’”

“She’s a box office draw. She’s in her league,” said Vierling. However, he said, Adams just still can’t believe it.

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres has been home to several actors who later became stars. The most recent actor to hit the big time is Laura Osnes, who starred as Sandy in the dinner theater’s “Grease” production. Osnes parlayed her talent to Broadway’s production of the musical, by winning the reality series, “You’re the One That I Want.”

“We do really first-rate productions,” Brindisi said. “It’s not a cheesy dinner theater. It’s a first-rate operation that attracts this quality of talent,” he said. Howland has received many inquiries about Adams. “I am getting a lot of those calls, and image is one of these things that is important to a young person that is bursting on the scene in a big way,” Howland said.

“Because she’s been good to us, we need to be protective of her, careful of who we talk to,” said Howland, who noted that the “National Enquirer,” was one of the publications that have contacted the theater.

“Amy has been great to be open about where she got her start, and she’s very humble about giving credit to different people who have helped her along the way,” Howland said.

Meanwhile, Brindisi is reserving a spot for Adams on the Chanhassen stage. Adams is friends with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres choreographer, and Brindisi asked her to pass along a message.

“Tell her I’m thinking of putting a pig in ‘42nd Street’ if she wants to come back.”

Source: Mark W. Olson / Cheska Herald (Minnesota)

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