Adam Grabau's life may have turned out much differently if redistricting in Columbia hadn't prompted his transfer from Atholton High School.
"I was in their JROTC program and I was pretty gung-ho about the military," the Howard County native says. "After my sophomore year they redrew the lines and I got switched to Wilde Lake High."
Because his new school didn't have the army training program, Grabau needed to find a new niche. "I joined the choir and made my new friends in the arts circles," he says.
In his last year at Wilde Lake, Grabau tagged along when a few of them went to audition for the school's annual spring musical.
"I had never done anything in the theater before but all my friends were going and they encouraged me to give it a shot," he says.
Before he knew it, Grabau had found a new calling.
"I walked in the audition and I sang for Tracy Adler, who is the drama instructor at Wilde Lake. When I finished she looked at me and said, 'Adam, I only have one question. Where the heck have you been?' It's still one of the most flattering moments of my career."
Getting cast in the role of Sir Harry in Wilde Lake's 1999 production of "Once Upon a Mattress" turned out to be a revelation for Grabau.
"That was when I got bit by the acting bug," he says. "The instructors at Wilde Lake really nurtured and supported us students as we developed artistically."
Since then, the professional actor has been featured in multiple productions in the Baltimore/Washington region. He's traveled to China where he appeared in a production of "Fame the Musical," and most recently he's played the lead role in the national touring production of "Monty Python's Spamalot."
"Playing the role of Sir Lancelot is probably the most enjoyable experience of my professional career," says Grabau by phone from a recent tour stop in Los Angeles. "I can't imagine doing any other show for this long."
The actor has been touring with the Tony Award winning musical since its 2010 premier at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House. "Making people laugh never gets old," says Grabau. Next week, the native son returns to the area when the musical comedy arrives at Washington's Warner Theatre for a one week engagement beginning Tuesday, March 13.
"Ever since I first went to the Warner it's been a dream of mine to play that stage," the 31-year-old Grabau says. "I'm finally going to get to do it. It's one more thing checked off my bucket list."
The oldest of five, Grabau is a lifelong Maryland resident. He holds degrees in Theatre Performance and Arts Administration from the Maryland Distinguished Arts Scholars Program. The curriculum included various theater apprenticeships and drama classes based at Howard Community College. The actor worked his way through school by performing at various regional playhouses, including Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia and Baltimore.
"I did around 19 shows between the two locations," Grabau says.
Proprietor Toby Orenstein remains a friend. "She has this charismatic attitude and artistic vision that just draws really talented people to her theater. I've played over 200 venues all across the country and Toby's remains the most unique. Nowhere else have I seen people so eager to work just for the pure love of it."
Since getting his degree, Grabau's credits include roles in such productions as "Beauty and the Beast," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Sweeny Todd" and "Oklahoma!" He also was part of the 2009 Helen Hayes Award winning ensemble for"Les Miserables" at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. The prize honors excellence in regional theater.
Until just a few years ago, the majority of the actor's work had been predominantly dramatic roles. After a humorous stint as Franz the Nazi in a production of the Mel Brooks musical comedy, "The Producers," casting directors began looking at Grabau in a new light.
"I was able to branch out in a new direction," he says. Performing in "Spamalot," based on the screenplay of the movie"Monty Python and the Holy Grail,"offered Grabau a whole new challenge.
"As an actor you often have to pull from deep down inside yourself certain emotions to play something very dramatic and heavy," he explains. "With this show, it's all about making people laugh, which in some respects is actually a lot harder, but it's also really fun. This is such a raucous comedy. It's a joy to get such a great response every night."
"Monty Python's Spamalot" is at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. N.W., Washington, March 13-18. Tickets are $40-$85 and are available at the box office, Ticketmastr, or by phone at 800-551-7328. For more information, call 202-783-4000.