A Conversation With Kevin Casey
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With the amazing #conductor of #MammaMia: Kevin Casey. @steph121687 and I met him before the show at Little Pete's; so, I said "Hi" to him during the intermission and told him how I was amazed by him conducting and playing the keyboard simultaneously. #musical #MerriamTheater #VisitPhilly
In December 2016, I met Kevin Casey at Little Pete’s diner in Philadelphia, PA, just a few hours prior to seeing a farewell tour performance of the musical Mamma Mia! at the Academy of Music with my parents. He was wearing a Mamma Mia! hoodie, so I approached him and I said, “I’m going to see Mamma Mia! with my family later today. Are you a part of the production?” Kevin told me, “I’m the conductor,” which blew me away. I didn’t expect to meet the man behind the music at the counter at Little Pete’s. I made it a point to say “Hi!” to Kevin at the show and we stayed in touch ever since. He was kind enough to let me interview him and we discussed his musical upbringing, what he studied in school and what led to him working on Mamma Mia! and, now, Kinky Boots.
How did you first get involved with music?
It all started with my Mom making me take piano lessons. Me and my two brothers – we were all taking piano lessons. The others dropped out because they weren’t interested and I was the last one left. So, I got a little extra push to keep going. Piano lessons are easy at first. But a year in, you’re either going to give it up or keep going. My Mom helped me over that hump. I wasn’t good at sports, so piano was my thing.
When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?
A revelatory moment for me was playing piano for a choir. It was my first time playing with other musicians. That feeling of four individuals playing together and making this amazing sound – it was a magic moment. The song was “Everybody Rejoice” from The Wiz. That was my first song with a band. It made me say, “All right, I’d like to do this.”
Did you study music in school?
Yes, I studied composition and conducting at USC in California. That was very focused on classical music. There was no musical theater, but I definitely learned a lot about music I had never been exposed to before. My favorite part was musical history.
What did you do after college?
I worked at a dinner theater in Huntington Beach. The waiters and waitresses were the singers. And the band, we were the bus boys. We’d fill your water and then we’d play the show. I did that for a while and it led to my job at an art high school, where I taught voice classes and music theory for 10 years. I also directed a bunch of shows there, and that was where my musical theater education really came from. It was a great experience.
What was your first out-of-town gig?
It was doing summer stock in Missouri. They have a thriving summer theater that’s been going for 40 years now. Then I answered an ad for a tour for the show Crazy For You. It was a small show with a bunch of one-nighters. I even had to bring my own keyboard with me (laughs). But it was a fun time and a great first tour.
Have you been on the road ever since?
Yes. After Crazy For You, I did Titanic with a bigger touring company. For that show I did keyboard and I was the assistant conductor. By my next show, Miss Saigon, I was the conductor. And I’ve been on the road since then, all but three years.
Have you spent a considerable amount of time in Philadelphia during your career?
I got to spend a year in Philadelphia, while working on a production of Ragtime at Temple University. From there I did a production of Rocky Horror Picture Show at Drexel. I did the college circuit for one season. It was nice to be in one place for a bit of time. But the rest of the time has been on the road.
When you and I met, you were conducting the farewell tour for Mamma Mia! How long was that run?
That lasted four years, and I was lucky enough to land a gig doing Kinky Boots afterward, which is what I’m doing now. It was nice doing Mamma Mia! for four years because I didn’t have to worry about finding a new job. Thankfully, I have good contacts at this point so I was able to get the Kinky Boots opportunity relatively quickly.
What are your thoughts on Mamma Mia! and how it compares to Kinky Boots?
Mamma Mia! spoiled me. It’s such an uplifting show, and people love it. People come to Mamma Mia! expecting that. With Kinky Boots, it’s a little different. It’s not quite as well known; not everybody has seen it or seen the movie. Oftentimes, people come to Kinky Boots because they’re season ticket holders and it’s one of the shows that’s part of their package. So, they come into it with no expectations. With Mamma Mia!, people knew the songs before the show existed, so it really has a leg up. This is only the second time – Mamma Mia! was the first – where a show I was rehearsing is still on Broadway. This is great because I was able to go see both shows on Broadway, while rehearsing the touring production in New York.
What was the first musical you attended as a child?
Man of La Mancha. However, I remember one night my parents came home and told me that they’d just seen a show that was so good they wanted to go again and bring us. So, we got tickets but only single tickets were available, so we were all separated. That show was A Chorus Line. Of course, I loved it and that show became huge. That show has always had a special place for me because of that memory.
What’s your all-time favorite musical?
If I had to pick one, it would be West Side Story. For me, that’s the top of the musical theater heap.
That’s a great one. Mine is Beauty and the Beast.
That’s a great show too. I did that one for a short while. I was the rehearsal pianist for when the tour was going out. And then, later on, one of the musicians had to take a leave of absence so I stepped in. We played Philadelphia during that tour, at the Academy of Music. It was great. It was a wonderful show. I loved being at the front of the theater and seeing all of the kids coming dressed as Belle.
When you’re on the road, do you see a lot of other shows?
Generally, I don’t. By the time I’m done, I want to rest up, otherwise I’m not getting back to my hotel until midnight. I’m a little behind, but sometimes I see one or two things. I haven’t even seen Hamilton or Wicked yet.
Wicked is excellent. However, I have no interest in seeing Hamilton because the music isn’t what I’m looking for from a musical.
I totally agree with you. When I first heard about it I said, “A rap musical? No thanks!” However, the hype has not abated, so I may be interested in checking it out at some point purely to see what it’s like.