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Fiddler Below the Footlights

by Linda Smith Brown |

Morton native and violin virtuoso Adam Kujawa is impressing audiences on the Broadway tour of Anastasia

When the Broadway touring company of the musical Anastasia came to Peoria for two performances in April, there was one member of the troupe making a return performance at the Peoria Civic Center.

Adam Kujawa
Adam Kujawa

Adam Kujawa, a 2015 graduate of Morton High School, was in the show’s orchestra pit, playing violin. The last time he played Peoria’s Civic Center, it was for the All-State Orchestra his senior year of high school, Kujawa said while back home in central Illinois on vacation last month.

“It is an incredible show,” the 26-year-old Kujawa said of Anastasia, with which he’s been touring since 2021, covering 42 states.

“It tells the story of the beginning of the Russian revolution in the 1920s, with the Bolshevik uprising and the murder of the Romanov family. When that all happened, there was a rumor that the youngest daughter of the family, Anastasia, had escaped. She was still out there, somewhere. Her grandmother offered a big reward. If anybody could find her and prove it was Anastasia, they would be rich. The musical really tells that story. Two con men meet a girl with amnesia and they trick her into believing she could be Anastasia. They travel from Russia to Paris, to basically con the grandma out of this reward money.”

The stage production, which has Kujawa performing solo in parts, borrows heavily from the 1956 film Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman in the title role. The stage musical borrows songs from the 1997 animated version of the same name.

The violin, not a first choice

As a student in sixth grade at Morton’s Jefferson Elementary School, Kujawa picked up the violin for the first time, as his second choice of musical instrument.

“Originally, I wanted to play the saxophone. I don’t know why, really. I guess I just thought it was a cool instrument,” he said. However, Kujawa knew he had dental braces in his future, and that was going to be a problem. “I was told I’d basically have to relearn how to play the saxophone, once I got braces, and then once I got them off, I’d have to relearn all over again.”

So, he tried the violin, instead. “I thought ‘yeah, sure. This seems fun.’”

Fun? Yes.

Easy? No.

The violin is widely regarded as the most difficult orchestral instrument to learn. But as Kujawa told an interviewer a couple of years ago, “the violin is one of the closest instruments to the human voice, which I think makes it touch people more than other instruments.”

Initially Kujawa was only practicing musical pieces he needed to learn for school. “But my parents took me over to Kidder Music and bought me sheet music for songs I’d hear on the radio,” he said. “I started playing things that weren’t just the school orchestra music we were learning at the time. I think that is what really got me excited about playing. I was playing things I enjoyed listening to and playing for fun.”

As a result, “I wanted to practice all the time. I think it would have been a lot different if I hadn’t had parents who wanted to make it fun for me.”

Adam with his parents, Roger and Kathy Kujawa
Adam with his parents, Roger and Kathy Kujawa

Parents Roger and Kathy Kujawa of Morton were supportive of their son’s musical endeavors, even the tedious hours of practice.

“When somebody’s interested in something, you kind of grin and bear it, a little bit,” said Roger. “Our house is a ranch house and spread out a little bit, where he could practice and we could be in the den and it really wasn’t that noticeable. You could hear it. But we knew he was interested in it. It’s what parents do … You grin and bear it.”

At Morton High, Kujawa played in the full orchestra and in Prelude, the school’s small chamber group. He also performed with the Central Illinois Youth Symphony and Peoria Pops.

Versatility equals marketability

Kujawa embraced the versatility of the violin to play various musical genres. “My goal going into college was being able to play for as many things as I can,” he said, “so that anytime somebody calls and says, ‘Can you play violin for this or can you play fiddle for my band?’ I wanted to be able to say yes to anything.”

In 2019 he graduated from Belmont University in Nashville. He was the university’s first student to finish up with a major in both classical music and commercial music.

Knowing a master’s degree was integral to playing in any orchestra, Kujawa then enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University on a full scholarship, receiving his master’s in music in 2021.

Nashville is Kujawa’s home base, but he spends 35 weeks of the year on tour with the show, along with the other 59 members of the production including crew, drivers, performers and musicians.

“We work together, we stay together, we travel together,” said Kujawa. “It’s like living in a bubble.”

The current production of Anastasia is booked through May, at which time Kujawa said he may join another tour, with a new story to tell and new music to play.

Linda Smith Brown

Linda Smith Brown

is a 37-year veteran of the newspaper industry, retiring as publisher of Times Newspapers in the Peoria area