Today we are pleased to present an Exclusive Interview with Cassie Okenka. Ms. Okenka is currently in the ensemble and an understudy for Glinda on the First National Tour. Her previous credits include Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ and a swing and understudy for the lead of role Bonnie in BONNIE & CLYDE on Broadway. To find out more about Cassie Okenka, please visit cassieokenka.com and follow her on Twitter @Cassieok.
What was your first professional acting job?
This question makes me giggle. I’ve always heard you’re a professional when you get paid. With that mindset, my first job was doing CATS down at McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale Illinois. I was Jellylorum and loved every second of it, except when it was 90 degrees, and I was wearing spandex with no air conditioning.
How did you get it?
I did a huge cattle call called the Midwest Theatre Auditions my Sophomore year of college. My friend at school actually got offered the part first before I got called.
What did you learn from the experience?
I loved my time down there. I loved the people. I learned that you really do have to challenge yourself to see what you can do. Never in a million years did I think I could dance that show, but there I was during the Jellicle ball, standing beside the Victoria and Misto Cats.
How did you come to audition for WICKED? How long was the audition process, and what did you have to do?
I had actually been going in for WICKED since I graduated college, but I had always been going in for an Elphaba cover, so a good 4 years, the casting team has seen me once or twice a year. I got as far to sing in front of the creative team but my feedback was my voice was too young. But the past time I went in for an Elphie cover, the feedback I got was I was more of a Nessarose type. Then I got a Glinda audition. Weird huh. But I went in for Glinda, sang my stuff (Glinda’s opening, the scene into “Popular” and “Popular”, and the catfight scene). The next day I went in and sang for the creative team. Then the following week, I went to a dance call. The next day I got the call! That process was fast, taking a bit over a week.
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
I just thought, this is really cool. And I am so ready for this ride. And honestly, I was kind of dumbfounded. Since I had gone in for Elphaba for so long, I thought I was just going to be put on a list for Glinda. And I was so glad the casting team was willing to see me for something different.
What was your first performance in WICKED like?
It was awesome! I opened in Portland but I had my put-in two weeks prior! So I had to remember what I was doing, since the two weeks prior I had been learning Glinda stuff. But it was so fun. And actually, it was the first time
the levitator failed ( How Elphaba flies) so Plan B was put in place. So that really made my WICKED Debut special.
What was your first performance as Glinda like?
Now that was cool! I was very lucky that I had a heads up my Glinda debut was coming so I could really focus in and not wrestle with as many nerves. Flying in the bubble was the scariest part but coming down surrounded by bubbles in a beautiful blue gown is such an amazing entrance. It was also the
first time I was hearing laughs, in rehearsal you don’t normally get reactions like a full house reaction. I loved going on as Glinda and can’t wait ‘til it happens again!
Have you witnessed, or perhaps been involved in., any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
Just a little one, but our conductor still pokes fun at me. I was in my 5th show as Glinda, and focusing a bit on notes given to me from my conductor. During “Thank Goodness”, the lines “he couldn’t look handsomer, I couldn’t be humbler…” came out ” I couldn’t look handsomer, he couldn’t look humbler”. Which still kind of makes sense….but of course I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. And the conductor still calls me handsome time to time.
Do you have any favorite parts of the show to perform in the ensemble?
I ADORE my ensemble track. I play Pfannee so I get to be a mean girl with a permanent stank face, Frankenstien in a cupcake dress, and melt the witch as Dorothy. I think I love Ozdust the most. It’s a challenge being a dance number, and it’s a blast with my partner, Mikey [Winslow – ensemble u/s Boq]. There is always something for me to work on and I can make different choices after Glinda disses us.
What about favorite parts to perform as Glinda?
I would love to say “Popular” because it is so fun to do. But
there is something about “Thank Goodness”. To see and hear Glinda’s struggles in her wording is a great acting challenge, and I really love to sing it. It has great range and you get to see a bit more of Glinda’s
Can you tell us a little about your experiences on LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL: THE SEARCH FOR ELLE WOODS?
This reality show came at a good point in my life. We filmed it my last semester in college so for me it was a great gage of how I was compared to established girls in NYC. It does suck that I was the first one kicked but it was a great way to make sure I didn’t make a fool out of myself. It gave me great connections in the city and was a fun way to spend a few weeks instead of being in school. 🙂
What about touring with THE WIZARD OF OZ?
I loved my Wizard of Oz experience. Yes it was a bus and truck tour but I would not change it for the world. I met the most amazing and important people in my life, saw incredible places, sang at awesome places (The White Sox and Astro’s games, opening the Smithsonian in D.C, On Good Morning America…) and I got to hang out with dogs! This being my first big thing out of college (I booked it 2 months after I graduated), it was a big test on my professionalism and work ethic. I also can sleep in any moving thing (subway. train, car, bus, plane) within minutes.
How did it feel to make your Broadway debut in BONNIE & CLYDE? You got to perform as Bonnie, the role you understudied. What was that like?
BONNIE & CLYDE was the most incredible, magical, powerful three months of my entire life. To be involved in a project in the early stages is cool enough but for it to be a Broadway show is just unimaginable. I could not have asked for a better Broadway Debut in my life. Laura Osnes [Bonnie], who I covered, wasn’t feeling to well on Saturday so I took extra care to shadow her backstage just in case. She did both shows on Saturday, but Sunday morning I got the call I was going on. I had had about four hours of rehearsal the previous week but hadn’t run majority of the show at all, including changes from the previous week. (It was the eleventh preview [previews are where the creative team makes changes to a musical before it is reviewed by critics]). I felt like I was shot out o f a cannon. I was prepared and ready and just so excited. I was able to have some amazing friends in the audience that I got entrance applause!! I could not imagined my debut going as well as it did. I sang a solo onstage, shot a gun, died, made fast costume changes, at one point did get confused backstage on what was next, and made was in a Broadway curtain call. I got to perform an ensemble track also which was so fun, too. I also got to be on the Original Cast Recording! It is a giant shame it closed. (BUT Go out and buy the soundtrack! You won’t be disappointed). It was literally a dream come true.
P.S. As I’m answering all these questions, it really makes me realize how incredible lucky and blessed I have been.
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to perform one day?
I’m honestly not sure. There are songs I love to sing from different shows (THE LAST FIVE YEARS, SISTER ACT, etc…) bt nothing that immediately speaks to me really strongly. Maybe it hasn’t been written yet. And when it does, I hope I tap dance in it.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
This life is very hard. and very frustrating. And, at times, will hurt
your soul and your heart. But, if you can make it through that,
someday you will walk home crying because your heart so full of pure joy, it will literally feel like it is going to burst out of your chest. And all the rejection and noes and “why not me?” will not matter. Just keep going and jump, no matter if it performing or what. Just jump.