‘A Chorus Line’
Where: Arkansas Repertory Theater
Times:8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 7 p.m. Wed.
Tickets: $50 orchestra, $35 mezzanine, call 378-0405.
Case Dillard — Casey to the people who knew him years ago when he was growing up in Little Rock — gets a couple of routine questions.
One: Is he one of the famed department store Dillards? Answer: Only distantly, and not enough for it to matter, even for a family discount.
The other, quite a bit more personal, goes like this: You’re not gay?
Dillard laughs about that one, hearing it just recently while rehearsing the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s “A Chorus Line” and telling a female acquaintance that he’s recently broken off a relationship. And the female assumed Dillard’s relationship was with a man.
“No, I’m not gay,” he told her. And he laughs about being “in the minority”: single, male, living in New York, working in the theater as a dancer, and being straight.
The 23-year-old Dillard tells of growing up dancing, taking lessons for years, and hiding that fact from friends in his early teens, when everybody else was playing on sports teams, until that one day that it dawned on him: “All the hottest, best looking girls were in dance,” he said.
Now, whoever thought ballet was a great place to meet chicks? “I’m in the 2 percent minority,” he laughs.
Anyway, whether he was teased as “being a sissy” for taking dance classes as far back as 6 years old, or whether his sexuality was mistakenly in question by others, it’s the good-natured Dillard who’s quite comfortable in his skin and who’s smiling all the way to the Great White Way this fall.
He’s landed a part in the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins,” which, considering the money Disney no doubt is certain to spend on it, and the well-known Julie Andrews film it’s based on, will be a wildly attended Broadway hit through the holidays. And Dillard will be a part of it.
“It’s a dream,” Dillard says of living in New York for only nine months and already landing a big role. “Some have been in New York for years trying to get a great show. One part of me, it’s like this shows I have enough talent to make it in this business. At the same time, I’m thrilled and a little humbled.”
Following call-back after call-back, Dillard got the part of a chimney sweep. Rehearsals for “Mary Poppins” start Aug. 21. The first preview is Oct. 14 in the New Amsterdam Theatre, and opening night is Nov. 16. Most of the cast would be unknown to even regular theater buffs, Dillard said, but Tony Award winner Rebecca Luker is cast as Mrs. Banks. Ashley Brown landed the starring role.
For now, Dillard will wrap up work as Bobby in “A Chorus Line,” directed by Cliff Fannin Baker. The show runs through July 2.
Dillard already was familiar to the Rep front office, having acted in such Rep productions as “Damn Yankees,” “Othello,” “Anything Goes,” “The Tempest,” “Gypsy” and “Cinderella.” While he was determined to stay in New York, he says that when he learned Baker wanted to give “A Chorus Line” a fresh approach, the show appealed to him.
“I went in there trying for the role of Mark, and they offered me the role of Bobby,” he said. “The first thing I thought was, do I look Jewish?
“Also, Bobby is the guy that is usually played flamboyantly, very Jack-like from ‘Will and Grace.’ I didn’t really want to do it that way, and Cliff didn’t want to do it that way either.”
But, Dillard admits, there’s a side of Bobby that is just like him, the guy who can rattle off entertaining story after entertaining story, keeping the crowd transfixed, and never missing a beat. “Cliff said, ‘You don’t have to act in the show, just be Bobby,’ and that is me,” Dillard said. “I have no shame.”
Look no further than “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” for proof that Dillard can roll with it. Looking for work, any work, not long after arriving in New York last August, his agent sent him to an audition for the NBC talk show, which needed “a pale white guy dancer” to dress up for a skit as the Dancing Irish M.C. Hammer. “After 16 years of dance training, I’m in a casting office trying to do bad hip-hop,” Dillard said.
He nailed his routine to “Can’t Touch This” in his own, off-beat way, dressed in green and plaid with a red wig, and “went out and made an ass out of myself, which was cool.” O’Brien even had Dillard’s Irish M.C. Hammer back for St. Patrick’s Day.
Dillard says he went to six different high schools, eventually getting a diploma from Parkview Arts and Science Magnet. Part of his high schooling was two years spent in Lynchburg, Va., at a ballet boarding school where the curriculum was eight hours a day, six days a week –- “the worst place in America to put up a ballet school, where men dance,” Dillard said laughing. But, he was able to add to his dad’s extensive autograph collection, getting Jerry Falwell’s while in Lynchburg.
After high school, and deciding he had to add acting and singing training to his dance experience, Dillard attended Point Park in Pittsburgh for four years. Points away from earning his union card, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera offered him an Actor’s Equity contract after his senior year. That was enough to propel him to New York -– a small apartment in Harlem, to be precise, and a whirlwind, magical nine months.
“I went in for everything, even if I wasn’t right for the part,” said Dillard, whose most recent day job was hosting at the Big Apple restaurant Cesca. “Now I’ve learned it’s OK to pick and choose.”
That’s even easier when your agent calls and you hear: “Case, how would you like to make your Broadway debut?”
Dillard said, “I yelled all kinds of joyous obscenities when he said that.”