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Persistence pays for star of CTC production 'Akeelah and the Bee'
Kiara Casseus, 15, shows maturity for actor
Published Monday, January 20, 2020 7:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Kiara Casseus (Akeelah) and Tony King (Dr. Josh Larrabee) in the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production of “Akeelah and the Bee.”

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Northwest School of the Arts stars bring struggle and triumph to life at McColl Family Theatre.

Children’s Theatre of Charlotte presents “Akeelah and the Bee” Jan. 31-Feb. 16. While you may know the name of Tony Award winning Northwest School of the Arts instructor Corey Mitchell, who directs the piece, a new face is the star. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Kiara Casseus stars as 11-year-old protagonist Akeelah Anderson, who struggles with the loss of her father and growing up in a rough Chicago neighborhood. Despite Akeelah’s academic gifts, she has little interest in applying herself until she wins the regional spelling bee. Will she win the Scripps National Spelling Bee?   

“Theater is all in the storytelling,” Mitchell said. “As we tell this story of Akeelah and how she comes into her own and rises above what anyone expected of her, it really is an uplifting story.”

Said Tony King, who plays Dr. Josh Larrabee: “This story is about literacy and finding confidence in your intelligence.”

Casseus spends most of the play on stage, and Mitchell credits her ability to carry the story to her maturity as an actor.

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“There is very little time for which she is not on stage and having to be on and having to remember the actions and the lines and the spelling and all of these things can be a real challenge,” Mitchell said. “I will say that so far during the rehearsals, she has really handled this with a lot of grace.”

Mitchell told his students that he would direct the production, and encouraged them to audition. Casseus, who is making her Children’s Theatre debut, decided to give it a shot. However, she experienced a few technical difficulties along the way.

“I tried to sign up with my computer, and it never worked,” she said. “When it finally would [the audition signups] were closed. I had to go in as a walk-in.”

When she arrived for the audition, everyone had a number denoting their spot in the process. Casseus was one of the final to try out.

“I was really nervous during the audition, but afterward, I was really proud of myself,” she said.

Casseus found out she had been cast in the starring role during a fire drill at school.

“My mom called me, and she was like, ‘hi, Miss Akeelah,’” Casseus said. “I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ and then I was like, ‘wait a minute!’ She sent me a picture of the email, and I was screaming.”

Mitchell saw Casseus manifest Akeelah during her audition, something he searches for in each character.

“Last year, I watched Kiara go through that transformation in real time during her freshman year,” Mitchell said. “When she walked in, and the lines started pouring out of her mouth, it was just an epiphany—‘this is the girl.’”

On the Net:


Congratulations! this is a big step and I wish you the best in your future endeavors. Follow your dreams
Posted on February 13, 2020
I am so proud of my kiara
Posted on January 26, 2020
Congratulations! I look forward to supporting you at the theatre and hope your performance inspires my elementary drama students. #theatreforlife
Posted on January 24, 2020
Yes we knew it. We're so proud of her accomplishments and we see the growth. Love you
Posted on January 23, 2020

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