Theatre Alumna Sings with the Stars

Clark (far right) singing backup for Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli
Casey Clark 1

Oct. 31, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Thirty-three years after her mother walked down the yellow brick road, Liza Minnelli starred in the film version of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret, carrying on a legacy and inspiring musical theater students worldwide. Countless aspiring artists have listened to Liza sing the words, “life is a cabaret,” and have taken inspiration from the musical’s “seize the day” message. Graduates of the Illinois Wesleyan School of Theatre Arts are certainly no exception – especially not Casey Erin Clark.

Clark, bachelor of fine arts in music theatre major in the Class of 2004, is still pinching herself after what she calls the magical opportunities that 2013 brought her. This fall, she sang in the ensemble as backup for legendary daughters of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft at “Lorna’s Pink Party,” a benefit held in New York City’s Birdland Jazz Club on October 14 for Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative. The concert raised over $120,000 for cancer research in honor of Luft, who is a breast cancer survivor.

Besides singing backup for Luft and Minnelli, who had not done a concert together in 20 years, the other highlight of Clark’s evening was performing at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party afterwards, where she provided spontaneous harmony on a performance of “Natural Woman” with Ann Hampton Calloway from the audience in support of rock star, Kelly King.  She also performed a parody version of “I Have Confidence,” which Clark has affectionately nicknamed “The Dating Song,” and enjoyed performances from the other attendees.  

Of the evening, Clark said, “It was one big love-fest start to finish, and I got to see some truly legendary interpretations of songs. Liza and Lorna’s medley was really, really special, but I think my favorite moment may have been seeing Ann Hampton Callaway and Lorna reprise the duet medley that Barbara Streisand and Lorna and Liza’s, mom Judy Garland performed in 1962.  It was stunning.”

Like many of these Broadway greats, Clark’s passion for musical theatre has blossomed from small beginnings. Back in her hometown of Bethalto, Ill., she began singing in front of her church at age four, and she started taking piano lessons when she turned six. Clark notes that growing up in Bethalto – a town that places considerably more stock in football than the arts – was challenging. She gives all of the credit to her parents for exposing her to the arts from a very young age.

Clark playing Maria with the cast of Stages St. Louis's
The Sound of Music, 2012
Casey Clark 2

“Never once did my parents hesitate when I told them that I wanted to be an actor,” said Clark. “They were, and continue to be, the most supportive family I could ever ask for.”

After taking the leap and following her dreams to New York City, she accrued many notable Off-Broadway and regional credits before she earned a spot in the 25th Anniversary Tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s musical Les Miserables. She toured with the cast for 21 months, playing in the ensemble, understudying the female lead Fantine (a role she played over 25 times) and eventually taking on the role of Factory Girl.

When she left the tour of Les Mis, Clark performed for the second time with Stages in St. Louis to play Maria in The Sound of Music in 2012. For that role, she was named Best Actress in a Musical by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. However, little did she know, it was not yet time for her to put Les Mis to rest. Clark received a call offering the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to sing in the ensemble with the film cast of Les Miserables live at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. She jumped on the opportunity, claiming her all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles in a heartbeat.

Clark describes the experience of being onstage performing with actors like Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway as surreal and unforgettable, saying she felt “like crying and like the smile on my face might split me in half, and like that’s a rack of actual Oscars next to us backstage, and like Amy Adams is even more gorgeous in person, and like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner just passed us in the hallway and said, ‘Great job!’ and like the luckiest girl in the world.”

Over the summer following her performance on the Oscars, Clark embraced numerous projects, including teaching at a children’s musical theater camp, and becoming voice and speech associate for New York Vocal and Speech Coaching. While things seemed to be calming down in her life, the excitement for 2013 had yet to come to an end when she was cast in the Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Oliver! The Musical, a project she is very excited to start working on.

She has also committed herself to put pen to paper by the end of the year in her songwriting attempts for a new pop EP album and music video that is currently in the works. This will be her second recording after her first album “The Song Begins,” which debuted in 2008 from PPI studios.

One might wonder, how does Clark manage to juggle her personal life, her commitments and her continual quest for a Broadway debut? The optimistic actress would answer that it’s all in the attitude, and that determination is absolutely essential.

“I recently re-read the Anne of Green Gables series, and those delicious little books sort of sum up my philosophy on life. Anne is the ultimate optimist, but behind her sunny attitude is this steely resolve to make life beautiful by choosing to do so.  It’s ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ in a way.  Why think of life as a burden when you can think of it as an adventure?”

Clark poses on the Red Carpet at the
85th Annual Academy Awards
Casey Clark 3

Clark says that she does not anticipate slowing down for the holiday season. She plans to prepare her first-ever Thanksgiving dinner in her new apartment in New York.  The results of her valiant attempt will be posted on her blog, “Dazzle and Delight” – a collection of her thoughts, do-it-yourself projects and delicious recipes for her friends to try. Clark says she started the blog when she realized, “I used to write all the time as a kid and a teenager, and it fulfills an artistic side of me that theater and performing doesn’t.  Theater is ephemeral, and of the moment and gone.  The projects I do for my blog have a tangible result, even if that tangible result ends up in my and my husband’s bellies.”

Clark is very passionate about inspiring other young artists who choose every day to take the leap of faith she has taken with her own career. When asked about the challenges she faced as a performer at IWU and beyond, she said, “My biggest obstacle is one that I think a lot of people in artistic fields deal with: how to be your authentic self in the construct of an atmosphere of heightened personalities and heightened reality—to not feel the need to “be the star” of every moment in order to prove yourself.  Theater people can be the kookiest, most insecure, most tenacious, and most loving people on the planet.  We tend to be the product of high schools where, for the most part, we were the outcasts—except for select moments where we made people ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ on stage and got some attention.  We live in an atmosphere where we are literally asking people to judge us at all times.  It can really screw with your mind and emotions and sense of self, and we never outgrow it completely.  I know I struggled socially sometimes because I was loud and desperately wanted people to like me.” She laughs, “It took me awhile to realize that you can’t actually make people like you through sheer force of personality: turning the charm up to ten, or impressing people.”

Clark realizes that toning it down and accepting oneself can prove difficult for a passionate artist. However, she teaches her students to never lose hope and to always stay true to themselves.

“The real struggle of being a performer is remaining authentic and emotionally honest in your work, while protecting your deeper sense of self from the reality of constant rejection,” said Clark. “No matter how ‘good’ you know you are, at the end of the day, you’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot.  You have to separate the idea of ‘no’ from the idea of failure.  In fact, you have to redefine failure.  The only failure is not putting yourself out there; not trying. You also have to separate ‘no’ from ‘you aren’t good enough,’ and the accompanying feeling of being inadequate.  When you reach a certain level in this business, everyone’s good. No - everyone’s great.  The best and hardest thing to do in an audition, beyond simple preparation and training, is to walk in the room and be you.”

Contact: Hannah Dhue, ’15, (309) 556-3181, univcomm@iwu.edu