For veteran Broadway actor and dancer Kerry Casserly, “A Chorus Line” has launched a thousand kicks.
St. Louis Park native Casserly, who grew up in an artistic family and studied under noted Twin Cities dance instructor Dorothy Lundstrum, was first cast in Michael Bennett’s singular sensation as a 25-year-old performer in 1979. The original creative team tapped her as a touring company replacement for Kristine, the young woman who comes into an audition with big dreams but no singing ability.
Casserly can carry a tune, although that was never her strong point. She had two weeks to get ready.
“It was grueling preparation, with a lot of ache and pain and a lot of nerves,” she recalled. But it paid off. She toured the nation and Europe. The show eventually took her to Broadway. She has staged it 10 times. And it got her noticed by Tommy Tune, who cast her in “My One and Only.”
“A Chorus Line,” which premiered in 1975, is set at an audition where 17 dancers try out for a show. They introduce themselves and show what they can do. It’s like “American Idol” for dancers.
Because of her knowledge of “A Chorus Line,” Casserly has become an unofficial custodian of choreographer/director Bennett’s legacy. (He died in 1987.)
She’s codirecting and cochoreographing the Ordway production with James A. Rocco.
“It’s a gift whenever I’m around the show,” she said. “It’s not just income, but also joy.”
Casserly joined her four sisters in 2000 in taking over the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts in north Minneapolis, where she is artistic director. She moved back to the Twin Cities full-time in 2007. Three of her students have been cast in “A Chorus Line,” including Herb Johnson III, who plays Richie. He’s bringing a hip-hop vibe to this updated show.
“Michael Bennett cast real people with a hunger and drive, and we wanted to do the same,” Casserly said. “The people we’ve cast are dynamic and talented but with a real ability to connect to an audience.”
She said it’s odd to be on the other side of the audition table. She remembers being very nervous when she met Bennett.
“Someone had told him that he wasn’t going to like me because I was turning the show into comedy, and that he would be snapping pencils and throwing hats when he saw my Kristine,” Casserly said. “Instead he said, ‘Bravo!’ That’s when I knew it wasn’t meant to be ‘Clone Line.’
“This is a show about real people, and we have to get to that authenticity to make it kick.”