BWW Interview: Monique Hafen Adams of CHICAGO at San Jose Stage Company Gets Her Shot at the Dream Role of Roxie Hart
Monique Hafen Adams is one of those theater performers who work so frequently throughout the Bay Area that they seem to be part of some kind of unofficial, regional rep company. Over the past several years, she has worked with most of the higher-profile theater companies in the area and has played characters as disparate as Johanna in "Sweeney Todd" and the title roles in both "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Sweet Charity," to name just a few. She is now starring as that infamous chorus girl, Roxie Hart, in San Jose Stage Company's production of Kander & Ebb's "Chicago." BroadwayWorld recently caught up with Ms. Hafen Adams while she was still in the thick of the rehearsal process. In conversation, she is upbeat, affable, and quick to express gratitude for the opportunity she's had to forge such a richly varied career in the Bay Area. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Was Roxie on your wish list of roles you've always wanted to play?
Absolutely! It's one of those roles that you kind of give up on. [You tell yourself] "Oh, that'll never happen because it's always on Broadway and nobody ever gets the rights to do it. So that's fine, it's OK." And then I found out that San Jose Stage was doing it, and I was like "Oh, my goodness!" It is definitely a dream come true.
Roxie is one of those complicated leading roles who, like Momma Rose in "Gypsy," needs to both charm and appall the audience to a certain degree.
Yes, absolutely. One of the challenges I've found with the role is that she has to be likable to the audience so that they can be on board with her, but she does horrible things. By the end, the goal - it's a bit Brechtian - is the audience should fall in love with her and then be appalled at themselves even for liking her. So that's definitely the challenge. We'll see (knock on wood), if I've achieved it, but that's the goal.
How do you pull that off as an actor, that duality of charming and appalling?
You look to the script, of course, first and foremost. At the very beginning of the show she murders somebody and then she's trying to get out of it, trying to get her husband to take the blame for her. But then she gets into jail and becomes kind of this underdog and I think that's where you hope the audience gains a little sympathy for her. And then, of course, there's lots of research I have to do to find the truth in her. [As an actor] I can't comment on how dislikable she is. I only can find her intentions, what she wants, her objectives.
I realize you don't have this up in front of an audience yet, but what is currently your favorite moment in the show?
Oh, man, there's so many good ones! I'm having a really fun time discovering what "Nowadays" is, the very last song that she sings with Velma. I'm curious to see how the audience reacts to the choices I've made for that. It comes right out of the trial - she thinks she's gonna shoot to stardom right away and the trial ends and nobody seems to care cause there's already a hot new story going on, so it's just a fascinating song. And then the other [favorite] song, cause I get to dance with every ensemble member, is "Me and My Baby." They're just incredible, and it's such a joy to do with them.
You've also played the title role in "Sweet Charity" so this is your second time playing a part that was created for the legendary Gwen Verdon. Do you feel any special connection with Verdon, or is that just a coincidence?
I can only bow down to Gwen Verdon! She was just a beast at what she did and I'm grateful that Roxie is [less physically] challenging than Charity because she was at the top of her game and pushing herself to the limit with that role. I bow down to her greatness, and hope that I achieve a small bit of it.
You're certainly have a versatile skill set as a performer. In just the past year or so, I've seen you play a 1960's American housewife in "A Walk on the Moon" at ACT and a nouveau riche early 19th-century Englishwoman in "Pride and Prejudice" at TheatreWorks, neither of whom is at all like Roxie. Do you actively seek out wildly different kinds roles, or is that just roll of the dice when it comes to casting?
I honestly count my blessings a lot because people luckily see me for these roles, but it does take a completely different voice type, a different skill set, lots of different tools to play these different parts. For example, in "Pride and Prejudice" I was singing legit soprano versus Roxie which is a lot of belting, which is not my main forte. But I'm enjoying rediscovering what that feels like, and the power it has.
The two shows I just mentioned were world-premiere musicals with some early buzz about maybe eventually aiming for Broadway. When you're involved in a show like that from the beginning, is there any hope or expectation that you'll continue to be involved with it in future productions or do you just let go of that?
There's a little bit of that, for sure, but as with anything in this business, you have to be grateful for what you've been given and move on. For both of those shows, I just hope that they do have another life, whether I'm a part of it or not. But, you know, there's always that little [voice] in the back of your head...
So it doesn't give you a special "in"?
Not necessarily, although with "Pride and Prejudice" we did the New Works Festival at TheatreWorks the summer before, which I was a part of, and then I got to do the mainstage. So there's definitely a little bit of "OK, they've seen me do this, they like what I'm doing, and I've already gone through the audition process." There's a familiarity that occurs which is really nice to get to know a composer and a director.
You've carved out quite a successful career for yourself here in the Bay Area. Do you ever have dreams of relocating to New York or LA, or are you perfectly content keeping the Bay Area as your home base?
I did go to New York for a short period of time, but I came back to the Bay Area for many reasons, some family things. But I also was getting a lot of work out here, and as a young 20-something, I was not just building my resume, but also building my craft. So, yes, I'm perfectly content here. I love the Bay Area, I love being able to do a variety of different shows every three months. But, you know... if New York calls, I'm not gonna say "no." [laughs] It's tough, though, cause it's a new market, right? You go to LA or New York and you're a brand new face and have to build connections, whereas here I can email TheatreWorks or whatever and they know who I am, which is really cool.
What's your idea of a perfect day when you're not performing?
Hanging out with my husband, being outside, going for a hike or a run, and cooking some dinner. I'm just a homebody, really. [laughs]
"Chicago" runs Wednesday, February 5th through Sunday, March 15th at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. 1st Street, San Jose, CA. Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office at (408) 283-7142 or online at www.thestage.org.