NEW YORK — There are two women Chanté Adams thanks every night on Broadway before she takes the stage: her grandmothers, together in a picture frame in her dressing room.
“These are my angels watching over me, my ancestors guiding me. It’s her prayers that brought me here,” she says before joining her cast at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater for Skeleton Crew.
“There’s just something about this photo that makes you feel like you’re here with me and you’re a witness. It’s the fuel that kind of drives me and keeps me going.”
The Adams grandmothers are watching over their granddaughter, who has a very fruitful start to 2022 with a role in Denzel Washington’s film A Journal for Jordan and a role in the upcoming TV series A League of Their Own. In between, she makes her Broadway debut in a play by Dominique Morisseau.
In “Skeleton Crew,” Adams plays Shanita, a heavily pregnant single mother and second-generation factory worker in Detroit. The play is set in the break room of a car factory in 2008, just as the last recession was beginning to take hold. Shanita and her two fellow auto workers, who live paycheck to paycheck, and their boss worry about the future.
“Shanita is the dreamer of the play. She represents life. It brings life into the world,” says Adams. “She has a lot at stake, a lot to lose, and she’s in a place where her priorities are shifting.”
Shanita likes her job, even though it’s physically demanding. She enjoys the respect she gets on the line and is proud of the skills she has developed. She helps to build an important item – cars. “I build something that will come to life in the end,” is one of her lines.
Adams hopes Broadway audiences will get more than just a glimpse into the stresses faced by workers who make cars in Detroit.
“We want people to look at us on this stage and see the workers around them, the people packing their boxes, the people delivering their groceries, all the people who leave ungratefully every day,” she said. “This is who we represent.”
She stars alongside Joshua Boone, Brandon J. Dirden, Adesola Osakalumi and Tony Award winner and five-time Emmy Award nominee Phylicia Rashad. Ruben Santiago Hudson is directing.
It’s fitting that Adams is making her Broadway debut in a Morisseau play. Both hail from Detroit and even attended the same high school, albeit at different times. It was Morisseau who organized a gathering of stage professionals when Adams visited New York with other drama students in 2011. The meeting prompted Adams to come to an important conclusion.
“After that night, I decided that I wanted to be an actor, that this was something I wanted to do,” Adams said. “So I have a very strong connection with Dominique. Without her, I probably wouldn’t be in this career.”
The fact that Santiago-Hudson is her director is also a moment that comes full circle. It was he who hired her for her debut acting role at Carnegie Mellon University in 2016 – a role in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Two River Theater in New Jersey.
“Anytime he calls or needs something, I’ll drop everything. I’ll be there,” she said. “It is also very special to be able to work with him again. And to be able to do a play about my city, about my people, written by someone I admire and am inspired by, that’s just very special and extremely divine.”
Santiago-Hudson vividly recalls the audition Adams gave, saying that she was obviously green, but the room lit up when she entered. When she left, he told the casting director that she was what he wanted for the role. The casting director reminded him that Adams had no credits. “She’s ready to have one,” he replied.
“She’s a phenomenal actress and doesn’t even know it,” he adds to All There. That’s the whole package – the generosity, the humanity, the integrity, the intellect. And then the talent.”
Adams’ career has been in full swing since that first appearance – she rapped in the biopic “Roxanne Roxanne,” for which she received the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Performance, and acted in roles in “Bad Hair” and “Monsters and Men.” He also plays the estranged mother of Issa Rae’s character on The Photograph.
“I’m drawn to characters that are layered, complex, and provide an emotional landscape to play around with and work with. I never want to play or do anything that is just a single note that keeps me in some kind of box. I love a complicated character,” she said.
The stage will always be a center of attraction, even if these days it’s ruled by movie kings like Denzel Washington. In fact, that’s why she’s returning to the live experience.
“I look at the actors that have inspired me, I look at people like Viola Davis and Denzel of course, and also Ruben – they’re all going back on stage,” she said. “Denzel told me that all great actors have to work in theater and that’s something I remember and will keep with me.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.