“I was six years old and I wanted to learn to dance like Michael Jackson. I thought I’d be the coolest kid in school if I could do the moonwalk.”
A seemingly simple dream to master a King of Pop dance move led Case Dillard from dancing in a Conan O’Brien bit to tap dancing in a Broadway mega-hit.
Dillard, who once lived in Austin, is looking forward to visiting a few of his old capital city haunts when he comes back to town next week as a lead in the Broadway Across America presentation of Mary Poppins. “I can’t wait! I wanna go to the Alamo Drafthouse and Uncle Billy’s and Austin Java and I wanna float the Guadalupe.”
Dillard plays Bert, the role Dick Van Dyke made so famous in the 1964 film about an unconventional nanny with some magical talents (and a very buoyant umbrella). The dancer lived in Austin for about a year and a half, starting in 2008, and taught dance at the University of Texas, St. Edwards University and Concordia University. He also choreographed several shows at Zach Scott Theatre.
Before his success as a choreographer, dancer and Broadway actor, Dillard’s first job after moving to New York City speaks of more humble beginnings. “I had an agent and he submitted some dancers for a Conan O’Brien piece, and he sent me in because they were looking for a honky white male to dance to 'You Can’t Touch This' on the bagpipes,” Dillard explains. “They put me in green plaid MC Hammer pants….and I went on and danced for about 13 seconds.”
“I had an agent and he submitted some dancers for a Conan O’Brien piece, and he sent me in because they were looking for a honky white male to dance to 'You Can’t Touch This' on the bagpipes.”
Not long after his 13 seconds of fame, Dillard got his first big break. He was just nine months out of college when he was cast in the ensemble of the original Broadway production of Mary Poppins.
“I auditioned to be Bert when I was 22 years old, but I was too young and too green,” he says. “In the last six years I’ve grown up a lot.”
Last spring Dillard, who has been acting and dancing since he was a child, headed back to Manhattan to be the understudy for Bert, earning the role in the touring show. He says he’s purposely tried not to let Dick Van Dyke’s Bert influence his portrayal.
“I haven’t seen the movie since I was ten. When I got cast I didn’t want it to influence me. It would have been futile to try to emulate what Dick Van Dyke did so I didn’t even try," Dillard says. “To play Mary and Bert, actors have to be themselves.”
Dillard says the production is a smart combination of the movie and the books the movie was based on. “If the audience expects the movie they will enjoy it but they will get so much more, including more depth.”
And a few more songs that were added to adapt the story for the stage. But not to worry, the film’s most memorable songs including "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee" remain.
The production is known for its elaborate sets, energetic dance sequences and some unique effects that involve more than a magical umbrella. Dillard swore me to secrecy but let’s just say one of the dance sequences he’s involved in reaches way beyond the moonwalk he once dreamt of learning and features moves more captivating than his Conan O’Brien gig. “I like people to see it and just go, ‘Wow!'”
Mary Poppins has been wowing audiences around the world since it’s Broadway opening in 2006 and has won close to 50 major theatre awards. The hit musical will bring a little magic to Austin audiences from April 10-15 at Bass Concert Hall.
“Come see Mary Poppins with an open mind. To experience it, you can’t help but be entertained,” Dillard says.
You can visit the Austin Broadway Across America site for tickets and more information.