When Lisa Adams was growing up in Joplin, she was that do-it-all theater girl.
In her own words, she’d be in a production at Joplin Little Theatre while at the same time rehearsing for a show at the Carthage Music and Theatre Club, now Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre, even as she starred in a musical at McAuley Catholic High School, where she went to school.
Adams had dreams of performing on the big stages in New York City, and she almost made it. She was destined for Broadway, but it didn’t happen the way she expected.
After more than 20 years as a personal chef for celebrities and people just looking for help living busy lives in the Big Apple, Adams got the opportunity of a lifetime earlier this year when she interviewed to be a food consultant and food provider for a new Broadway play that opened in November called “Clyde’s.”
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lynn Nottage, the play features a cast of characters who recently got out of prison and got jobs at the only place that will hire recent convicts.
“It’s this truck stop diner and they make sandwiches,” Adams said. “And one of the gentlemen that works there really takes pride in what he does and is this really amazing cook. He’s kind of this sandwich guru, and he passes on his wisdom to the other former incarcerated people and just gives them hope, talking about what we do is important on every level, that what you’re doing is contributing to society and you’re getting a second chance.”
The cast features five characters, but Adams isn’t one of them. Adams prepares the sixth character in this play — the sandwiches.
“The director and writer had said, ‘We want the sandwiches to be like a fifth character or a sixth character,’” Adams said. “‘We want them to really be important because the actors are interacting with them. We want them to be inspired, we want them to taste it and to be able to know that a professional has prepared it, and that we want it to read from the audience that they’re very, very special.’”
New York life
Adams keeps her Instagram feed full of stunning images of some of her food creations, including the five sandwiches she has created hundreds of times for “Clyde’s.” The play opened at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York City on Nov. 23 and closes on Jan. 16.
On Nov. 2, Adams posted to Instagram a photo of the first sandwich that appears in “Clyde’s” and talked about the complications of creating it.
“I’m STILL working on the perfect combination of visually stunning + sturdy enough to hold up overnight in a props fridge + delicious enough to be eaten on stage to inspire the actors’ reactions + big enough to read as ‘special’ from the balcony + small enough to be handled/bitten/chewed/swallowed before the next lines need to be said + all on a budget = Broadway. Is. Hard,” her post said.
Adams said she worked with the director and writer to develop the sandwiches, and she delivers them to the Broadway stage door every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to accommodate the production’s eight shows per week.
“I hand off the sandwiches to the props team, and they pack them and set the props and the show goes off,” she said. “You can go to my Instagram and flip through and see a lot of the sandwich content that I’ve posted and you can see more about the show.”
In addition to making the sandwiches regularly, Adams also has a full-time job as a personal chef for regular folks as well as celebrities such as Steve Martin and Gloria Steinem. She’s also a social media influencer with an active blog, and she has shot a pilot program for the Food Network.
“I realized that who I was as an actress and who I was as a cook was creating space for new dreams,” she said.
Adams was born and raised in Joplin and went to school in the Catholic system. Her father is Sam Adams, a former professional football player and longtime football coach in the Joplin area. Her mother, Rita Adams, taught at St. Mary’s School in Joplin for 35 years before retiring.
After graduating from McAuley Catholic High School, Adams earned her bachelor’s degree at Webster Performing Arts Conservatory before moving to New York City.
“I came from really, really great parents, and they just instilled in me that you can do whatever you set your heart on,” Adams said. “I was never held back by being from a small town at all. … and I think part of the reason why I’m such a successful chef in New York City, cooking for my clients, is because I have this Midwestern sentimentality. My feet are on the ground and I’ve got a practical, level head, and I feel like I owe that to my hometown. They’ve kept my head on my shoulders, and I never got too big for my britches.”