Arts & Culture

Twenty-five years and counting: actor/director Casey Colgan a force of nature at Arts Center

Actor/director Casey Colgan.
Actor/director Casey Colgan. Submitted photo

On the day Casey Colgan entered my life, more than 25 years ago, he was in costume for a photo shoot to promote the grand opening of the arts center on Hilton Head Island. The show was "Crazy for You." Dressed in character, he assumed the "six o'clock" pose of Tommy Tune -- with one leg at noon and the other at six. It actually went "viral" down here. He was amazing, and I was starstruck.

This past May, Casey breezed into the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina executive office, wearing a conservative checkered sport shirt, to give me a backstage look of the show he was directing at the time, "9 to 5: The Musical," one of several he's been involved with locally.

He was on his cellphone, talking to someone with a scheduling question. Very businesslike, it was over in seconds. When Casey replaced the phone, he folded his close to 6-foot-4-inch gangly frame into an office chair and began talking animatedly. It was as though he had somehow re-entered the character I was counting on. He spoke of earlier times, later times, and most especially, the exciting times that were happening now.

Casey, a creative spirit and an amazing force of character, is an accomplished director, choreographer, actor, dancer and teacher who understands the power and the appeal of theater. He splits his time between New York City and Hilton Head Island. Most recently his success was acknowledged widely when he was chosen as the recipient of the BroadwayWorld Best Direction of a Musical award for "Anything Goes."

"I have to say, I was really so honored," he said. "I'm often congratulated after a performance by audiences, directors and cast members ... but something like this is way above and beyond, do you know what I mean?"

(Happy discovery: Casey still punctuates many of his comments with the most engaging, "do you know what I mean?" Watch for it.)

Casey describes his work as one of the best jobs in the world -- easy, or tough, by turns, and often chaotic. And he points out that actually living in New York with lots of opportunity for travel adds to the chaos.

"New York" was the word I was listening for. I took that moment to ask for the true scoop about the top shows he recommends in the city right now -- and as a close second -- the names of the hottest and most trendy cafes to visit after a performance. I was poised to make a list in my "note to self" column. Imagine my disappointment to hear that he is so challenged with his schedule, that he hadn't seen the newest musicals or even tried out the eel at the newest sushi bar.

"I'm just really busy," Casey said. "My position at American Musical and Dramatic Academy as dance teacher and as a member of the admissions committee, my performances or my directing in town or around the country. Oh, and what really keeps me double busy right now is a kind of newish role, I'm a scout -- a Simon Cowell kind of guy, and it involves even more traveling, do you know what I mean?"

Hilton Head producer, director and musician Don Hite and Casey met each other through a friend involved in theater in Florida. The happiest news for everyone, actually, is that this early hookup, and many that were to follow, contributed to keeping Casey nearby on Hilton Head, even though he lived in his wonderful West Side apartment in the city.

"There was a collision for us in 1990," Don said. "The rest is theatrical history. We are always in touch and are such supporters of each other's work."

Out of those early years came "Guys and Dolls," and the continuing good news is that the two brought cast members together from everywhere. "A Chorus Line" was the next production, and impressively and impactfully, it offered the opportunity to begin to cast out of New York.

"We branched out to the Studio at the Plaza and over to the Playhouse," Casey said. "It was so terrific to work with Dallas Dunnagan and Penny Rose. ... Everybody was just great."

Casey was in Paris doing "A Chorus Line" when he got a call from the folks on Hilton Head asking if he would be available for the grand opening of the arts center, taking the lead in "Crazy for You."

"I didn't think twice, do you know what I mean?" He laughed. "I turned in my notice and left the company and started back to Hilton Head."

Casey's history at the arts center is legendary. As Edna in "Hairspray," Carmen Ghia in "The Producers," Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast," his roles were over the top. His directing successes were spot on, too. What an impact his leadership has had over all of these years with an amazing list of the most important musicals ever. Think "Aida," Les Miserables," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Spamalot," "Hello, Dolly," and "A Chorus Line." All in all, more than 30.

More than likely we'll see Casey's production of "Gypsy" this coming season.

"I followed in my parent's footsteps," said Casey, as he talked about his earliest beginnings. "They were a good-looking showbusiness couple. My dad was in radio, and my mom was in television when it was almost brand new -- totally got me off on the right foot when I started tap dancing at 2 years old."

That was in Quincy, Ill., and while he followed his parental direction about education, it was after a year at a college in Missouri that Casey decided New York and the acting academy were a more perfect fit for him. He said that next to his parents, the director of the acting academy truly influenced him, admonishing him to invest his heart and soul into musical theater.

Casey reminded me that one of his most important goals, no matter the hat he is wearing at the time, is to discover stars and nurture young talent. "I am always on the lookout for the most promising personalities. I know I have played a role in lots of performance futures.

"I can't say enough about my friends, here -- those that I've known forever and those new associations I make in the process of preparing a new performance. I have spent so many wonderful years doing what I do ... do you know what I mean?"

Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.