Dillon Stevens never set out to become Billy Elliot's best friend. It all sort of happened by accident.
"I was at a dance competition and one of the judges was like, 'Hey, you would be good for a part in this show,' " says the 13-year-old from North Carolina, who shone in the role of Michael Caffrey alongside Cesar Corrales, who played Billy, on opening night of the Toronto production of Billy Elliot The Musical.
The judge, it turns out, was playing the grown-up Billy in the Broadway production of the musical adaptation of the movie about a young boy who discovers a love of ballet. Following that fateful meeting in the summer of 2009, Stevens travelled to Chicago to audition. A few auditions later, he received a call from the producers saying they needed him in Chicago in 48 hours.
He has been playing the role of Michael ever since.
While some other boys his age might be reluctant to take on the part of a boy who enjoys dressing in girls' clothes, it is an ideal part for a kid who has always enjoyed getting a laugh out of people. "Everybody thought it was the best part I could get," Dillon says. "It doesn't insult me. It's just like, 'Yeah, look at me, I'm making all these people laugh.' "
Stevens was 5 when he began taking dance classes. "My mom was going to sign my little sister up for dance, and the owner of the dance studio was my kindergarten teacher at the time. She was like, 'You can sign up Hannah if you sign up Dillon, too,' " he says.
Once he got the role of Michael, however, he found himself with a busy schedule that included singing and acting lessons, things he had never done before. "The first time I sang in public was on this stage," he says.
The friendship between Michael and Billy comes across so clearly onstage in part because the two boys who play Michael and the four who play Billy are friends in real life. Whenever they have downtime, they are usually doing something together. "We play shinny hockey," Cesar says.
They've also been to the movies a couple of times in Toronto and made a recent trip to the nearby Hockey Hall of Fame. "It makes it easier to feel that bond," Dillon says.
Of course, sometimes the young men are jealous of one another's parts. "He gets this one number that's very big," Cesar says, "and he gets this amazing applause."
Adds Dillon, "I think it would just be fun to be onstage the whole time." Still, Michael is a great part, he says. "Not only do we get a really awesome, funny scene and then a big dance number, we also get a serious scene."
Even though he is far away from home - he lives in Toronto with his guardian, who also happens to be his first dance instructor - Dillon says he usually talks to his parents once a week. When he called his mom the day after opening night, she had already read every review she could find online.
Both Dillon and Cesar say they know they are enjoying the roles of a lifetime. And for Dillon, it's more than just cool.
"I don't remember when I was little, always dreaming, 'Oh, I want to be on Broadway,' " he says. "But now that I'm here, I wish I was, because maybe I could have got to do it earlier. But as of right now, yeah, this is hella cool."