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BWW EXCLUSIVE: A CHORUS LINE's 'Casey' Speaks! Hunter Agnew Talks Gender-Bended Canadian Production

One of the hottest stories of the summer has been Canadian regional theater Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions' game-changing and gender-bended mounting of classic Pulitzer Prize-winning musical A CHORUS LINE featuring a male actor in the leading role of Cassie, now referred to as Casey. Today, Kingston actor Hunter Agnew speaks exclusively to BroadwayWorld about how he became involved in the production, the revolutionary take on the show envisioned by the creative team for this mounting as well as his own thoughts on portraying a character traditionally played by an actress - of course, Broadway legend Donna McKechnie famously originally essayed the part and won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress In A Musical for her efforts. Go inside the production and learn all about a buzz-worthy new version of a familiar classic below and be sure to check out BroadwayWorld's previous coverage of the production that closed late last month, available here.

Speaking of how he first came involved with the production, Agnew relates, "I saw the notice on Facebook through friends who were signing up and auditioning for it and I thought, 'Oh, I should do that!' At the time, I was deciding if I was going home for the summer or if I was going to stay in Kingston, but I decided I was going to stay in Kingston and look for jobs and I ended up not finding anything right away so I didn't audition for the show right away. Then, I found a job and right after that I was approached by the music director, Amy, who was my previous music director for the last show that I did. She said, 'Hey, so we're going to hold a second audition and we want you to come and audition.' So, I said, 'Sweet!' and I went and auditioned. They were only looking to fill one more male role - the role of Mike - and they actually cast one of my good friends in that role, and they had been waiting to cast Cassie and nobody came along. So, I came along and I guess I blew them away and they thought I should do the role. They switched the role and made it into Casey instead of Cassie."
Sharing if he was aware of the gender-switching option of Cassie and Casey when he auditioned for the show, Agnew says, "I don't know much about the production side of things, I was just cast in the role. My audition song was 'The Wizard & I' from WICKED, so maybe they knew from that that I could do Casey. I wasn't auditioning for Casey, though, I was just auditioning in general - I didn't know who they had already cast yet or anything when I auditioned. I just went in and auditioned because they asked me to come in and audition and like a day later they called me and said, 'Hey, we were originally just looking for one more guy to cast in the show, but we like you so much that we are going to switch Cassie to Casey and cast you as that.' And, so, I said, 'Sounds good! Let's go with that!'"

Agnew shares of his familiarity with the show in general, "I wasn't that familiar with the show - I mean, I knew the bare bones of it; just the structure and what it was generally about. Then, I watched it online - the original cast on YouTube - and then I watched the movie and did some research on the cast and the history of the show and stuff like that. I worked on Casey from there."

Shedding some light on the rehearsal process and exploring Casey's backstory with Zach, played in the production by Matt Salton, Agnew offers, "So, the directors, Matt and I did a bunch of character work at the beginning - just going into the backstories of the relationship and the deep motives that they had; you know, why Casey was coming back and what that meant consciously and subconsciously. We really read into a lot of that and really dug into the characters and tried to build a deep root for them to grow from. We did a lot of character work - a lot. The backstory for Casey and Zach that we envisioned - this whole kind of theory that we came up with - was that they were living together but Zach was so in love with work that he fell out of love with Casey but just couldn't deal with that. There is a line in the show - 'I could handle not being a part of your work, but it was not being a part of your life that really got to me,' - and so that's the line that we really based our relationship on. So, we imagined that Casey went off to LA after that to do a lot of stuff and tried to act but nothing really worked, and, then, he came back - bare bones and desperation, on his knees. He was like, 'There is nothing left for me to do in this world except dance on a stage,' and, somewhere deep in his mind he thought that if he had any shot of coming back and starting over in New York, it would be in Zach's show. And, that's not necessarily because Zach owed him a favor or because of their past history, but he just knew how Zach worked and really knew him as a person. He felt that was his best shot to come back - he could have gone to any audition, but he felt that was his best chance at the time, regardless of his previous history with Zach."

Agnew posits of his own thoughts on the progressive gender-bending casting, "Personally, it was the role I was looking for at this infancy stage of my career, to be honest. And, I was really looking forward to the solid three-part arc of the character - you know, it has a huge dance number, a big acting part and you have to sing your heart out. I loved the character for that reason because I could really work on all three parts. For the character himself, gender-bended, I think it brings more of a modern flair to the show, especially now that it is 40 years old. I think gender-bending it gives it a new twist, though not necessarily making it any more relatable - obviously, the book itself is dated. The context of Casey and Zach versus Cassie and Zach brings some fresh energy to it, though, I think. In terms of other people doing the show gender-bended, I think it would be interesting and I would like to see other characters explored like that. For instance, I'm not sure how it would work, but through the whole process I thought, 'It would be really interesting to see the Val character bent into a male role, especially with the whole 'Dance 10, Looks 3' number, even though I don't know how it would be bent for a guy, to be honest!' In general, I really like the idea of gender-bending just so long as the content and the soul of the show isn't disturbed. With Casey, the plot-line and everything stayed exactly the same except for the gender and sexuality of the characters - it was homosexual instead of heterosexual. Casey and Cassie are exactly the same person, basically, their genders are just different."

As for audience reactions, Agnew shares, "To be honest, I got no real feedback on the gender-bending. I don't think most people even knew - I don't think I talked to anybody who asked a specific question about the gender-bending at all. Everyone just kind of enjoyed the show on face value and just didn't know the backbone of the history of it, I don't think."

Photo Credits: Amy Collyer-Holmes, Mark Aidan Bergin and Ryan Cowl

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)

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