Kasey Todd stands in front of a small group at the SouthShore Regional Library. ¶ The music starts, and her melodic soprano voice rings out. ¶ "Just moved into 14G. So cozy, calm and peaceful. Heaven for a mouse like me." ¶ In that one song, Kasey, 17, sings sweetly, scats with attitude and boldly hits a high C-sharp with the skill of a seasoned opera singer. All with very little training.
"I was just blown away," said Sandy Council, who attended the performance. "She really has a stage presence."
Kasey loves musical theater. It's all she has ever wanted to do. She acted in her first play at her church when she was 4 years old. It was the Aesop fable, The Lion and the Mouse.
"I think I was the mouse," she said.
Since then, she has been in about 20 plays at community theaters and churches. Recently, she was Peter Pan in Neverland with the Village Players, Cinderella in Into the Woods with Stagedoor Performing Arts and Liesl in The Sound of Music with Stagedoor.
Although she loves community theater, Kasey wants to take her craft from Brandon to Broadway. She envisions herself as a star on the Great White Way.
In August, Kasey auditioned for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, which offers bachelor's of fine arts programs and has produced successful graduates, including Emmy- and Tony- award-winning actress Tyne Daly.
On that Sunday morning, Kasey walked into a conference room at the Hyatt Regency Tampa and stood before an accompanist and a judge. She instantly became Cathy Hyatt from The Last 5 Years as she sang Goodbye Until Tomorrow. Then she went into her monologue, playing Babe from Crimes of the Heart.
Kasey's mom stood outside the room, her ear almost touching the door.
For Kasey, the audition was a blur. She had a cold, and her stomach was doing somersaults.
"I was very nervous my voice would crack," she said. "I took lots of cough drops that day."
When it was over, she took a deep breath.
"She did great," said, her mom, Lori Todd. "She sounded really good."
Two days later, Kasey learned she'd been accepted.
"It's just a blessing," she said. "I feel God's opening the door to do big stuff."
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For as long as she can remember, Kasey has been involved in Brandon-area activities. She won the Brandon Idol contest one year, and she used to lead youth worship at the Crossing Church. She attended Seffner Christian Academy in ninth grade and won "best female actress" that year.
Then, Kasey decided she wanted to be homeschooled. School wasn't her favorite thing, and the tuition at the academy was expensive. She wanted to graduate early to focus on her acting career. Her parents obliged, and she graduated in May.
She's excited to take dance classes at school in New York City when she starts in June. Best of all, she said, she won't have to study math, one of her least favorite subjects.
Although she will make the Big Apple her home for the next two years, Kasey has never been there. And she has never been away from her parents for long.
"They're happy for me. They've always taught me to chase my dreams, but it's still sad," she said. "It's going to be really weird not having them with me the whole time."
Her parents said it will be hard for them, too. Lori Todd is accustomed to her daughter singing around the house before performances.
"It's going to be really quiet around here," Todd said.
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When Kasey gets on stage, she's not nervous at all. She loses herself in the characters.
Peter Pan was unique because she played a male. The best part was the sword fighting, said Kasey, who loved hearing the audience's reaction.
"After I killed Hook, people would cheer," she said.
Domin Pazo, who directed Kasey in the Stagedoor productions, said she has always stood out among other local actors. She performs naturally, he said.
"When you look at her, you don't think she's reading it," he said. "She sucks you in. You believe it."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.