When he was 11 years old, Adam Mandala’s father sat him down and asked him, “What is going to make you happy?”
“I told my dad when I started, I want to dance, but I will only dance and go into classes if there are other boys,” said Mandala, a 2016 musical theater alumnus.
He attended a performing arts high school in New York City, and studied musical theatre at Temple University. Now, he is performing at the Walnut Street Theatre on Walnut and 9th streets, which was founded in 1809 and is the oldest theater in the United States.
Mandala will be performing as an ensemble member in the theater’s main stage production of “Shrek the Musical” that runs Nov. 13 through Jan. 5. He’ll perform alongside Kimberly Maxson, a 2014 musical theater alumna and ensemble member in the musical.
Mandala and Maxson play a variety of fairytale creations in the musical. Mandala plays the Mad Hatter, a captain and a tap-dancing bouncer, and Maxson plays an ugly duckling.
Mandala’s favorite number he performs in is “Freak Flag” in the second act, he said.
“It really makes the show real for me and really ties back to real life and people not fitting into society, or people feeling like they’re different or are looked at different or called freaks, because of their background or sexuality or just anything and I think it makes it extremely relevant,” he added.
The show is Maxson’s fifth production at the Walnut Street Theatre, and she said she enjoys the history of it.
“I love how old the theater is and the amount of people who have been on the stage that we all get to share is really cool, to think about all the famous people and your idols who’ve performed here,” she added.
Maxson said she decided to pursue musical theater as a career after performing in her first musical in high school. Her parents saw she had a passion for musical theater and supported her decision in applying to college for it.
“At first it started as a passion, and I didn’t know that people could do this as a career, because you don’t really think about it when you go to see a show that this is their job,” Maxson added. “I realized that this could be my job, and I love to be able to do what makes me happy for a living.”
Mandala became involved in Walnut Street Theatre during his junior year at Temple after being hired as an extra for 2014 production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Later, he performed in “Young Frankenstein,” “Legally Blonde: The Musical” and “Mamma Mia!” which was his and Maxson’s first show together.
“I’m in one of those places where they really, really make it feel like a family,” he said. “It has become my second home.”
Maggie Anderson, an assistant professor of musical theater and movement, taught both Mandala and Maxson dance. She choreographed all of their productions in the musical theater concentration while they were at Temple.
She said that the musical theater concentration at Temple is competitive, and requires people to have a work ethic.
“Even if you’re really talented, talent doesn’t trump hard work,” Anderson said. “If you’re going to make it in this business, even to make through this program, you have to be disciplined.”
She added that Mandala possesses many of these characteristics.
“He’s a standout, he’s great and there is nothing more joyful than being able to see someone that you taught truly get out there and get paid money to do what they love,” Anderson said.
Mandala and Maxson both plan to continue auditioning for productions after “Shrek the Musical” closes, they said.
“I genuinely just enjoy being on the stage every single night,” Mandala said. “I get the same thrill to this day, every time I go on stage.”