Five years ago, a young woman astonished everyone at the auditions for the Maui OnStage production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Her name was Casey Murphy. Shortly after she sang for the first time, “Best Little” casting associate, Aly Cardinalli, exclaimed to director, Kristi Scott: “Let’s get the rights to ‘Legally Blonde’ before she moves.” Since that time Casey, now Casey Murphy Hughes, has gone on to play the girl that stranded her fiance at the altar in “the Wedding Singer,” along with being a floozy with a heart of greed in “Annie,” murderess Roxie Hart in “Chicago,” and Cinderella.
After a hiatus from large-scale musicals, she will return in July as Elle Woods, in a production produced with her in mind – “Legally Blonde: the Musical.”
Casey was born into an Irish-Catholic theater family in New York City, but moved to Oahu as a baby.
“My dad was in the U.S. Coast Guard,” she shared. At age 5, she saw Bruno Mars’ child impersonation as Elvis in Waikiki, but truly became hooked on theater after seeing her mother perform in a production of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
“I wanted to be like her,” she shared a story from her first hula performance. “I was so shy, complete stage fright. I ran off the stage and hid.”
Frequently returning to New York, her first Broadway show was “Beauty and the Beast” when she was 8.” A few years later her father (who is also a carpenter) got her a backstage tour of “the Lion King” on Broadway. “He built the bar at a restaurant that was owned by a ‘Lion King’ staff member,” she said. “Afterwards we went to Elaine’s for dessert.” The world-famous Manhattan eatery is located directly across the street from Rathbone’s, a restaurant her family has owned since the 1970s. From then on, Casey trained in theater.
“I started with classical singing lessons at 12. My focus was choir and competitions. I didn’t go to the parties.” After high school, she landed a partial scholarship to Shenandoah University in Virginia. Her father was now stationed in Norfolk, and Casey’s first professional gig was the Dominion Theater production of “Annie.”
“The Virginia Beach / Norfolk area was a theater mecca,” she said. “We all shared the same stages and facilities from the kids to Broadway tours. From 11 to 17, all I did was professional theater and classical competitions.” A soprano, she became burnt out on all the work and constant training, and moved to Maui to visit her older brother just prior to her 21st birthday. She thought she’d stay just four or five months. But it didn’t take long for her to land a leading role and she hasn’t stopped performing since. Her niece, Luna, and nephew, Orion, are also active in Maui theater.
She gave Broadway a shot, but the plan dissolved when love got in the way. She was married on Feb.15.
“My dream has changed to being happy and having a family. I’d love to manifest a professional theater house here as a future goal, but when friends (in the industry) come visit, they’re jealous. Within a few days they’re ready to give up their lives for a life on Maui, even though I’m just a waitress now.”
I wanted to know if that future goal involved a dream project. “I’ve always loved the Disney shows,” she said. I love the big-budget details and the stage effects. I always wanted to play Annie Oakley in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ though. That would be my dream role.”
Casey can also be seen performing regularly with friend and fellow “Chicago” cast mate Lia Krieg and the Kit Kat Club Cabaret at nightclubs and stages all over the island. She is also active in bringing live entertainment to the Maui Tropical Plantation and the Historic Iao Theater with stage revues like “Hollywood Swing Canteen,” “Kama’aina Christmas,” the Halloween themed “Phantome,” and “One Hot Winter’s Night.” A true entrepreneur, Casey also operates Pacific Princess Parties, LLC with Krieg (Cinderella or Marilyn Monroe can visit your daughter’s birthday party), and when she’s not entertaining or producing, you might catch her serving at Mama’s Fish House in Kuau.
If you are unfamiliar with the Reese Witherspoon film, to quote Maui OnStage Executive Director, Alexis Dascoulias, “ask your daughter.” UCLA Delta Nu sorority president, Elle Woods has her sights on marrying Warner Huntington III. When Warner, tells Elle that he needs someone more serious and decides to break up, she is devastated, but decides to chase her beau to Harvard Law School. Elle’s snobby classmates disapprove of her immediately, but in time Elle excels at Harvard and lands a spot as a student assistant on Law Professor Callahan’s defense of fitness queen, Brooke Wyndham. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” says Casey, “and never underestimate a blonde.”
The Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents “Pippin,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse, directed by Sally Sefton, choreographed by Katie Higuchi, and under the musical direction of Marti Kluth. The multi-Tony winning Broadway classic, conceived by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) is a semi-historical account of the teenage son of Charlemagne, and his growing pains journey as he seeks the meaning of life and his place in it. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, opening Saturday, July 5 through 13 in Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Tickets are $15 adults, $12 students. For tickets or more information, call 244-8760 or visit mauiacademy.org.