Casey Likes has had one hell of a year.
Six months ago, Likes made his Broadway debut as William Miller in Almost Famous. March featured his blockbuster film debut as Gene Simmons in Spinning Gold (opposite Jeremy Jordan). This summer, he will add another leading credit to his resume; Marty McFly in the Broadway production of Back to the Future. The day after announcing his participation in the hotly anticipated transfer, Likes flew home to Arizona, where he inadvertently added a fourth credit to this year's lineup: High School Theatre Program Hero.
"My mom is a theatre teacher at Chandler High School, one of the largest high schools in all of Arizona," Likes explains. When he is between jobs, the 21 year old likes to return home, often helping out as his mother's assistant when she is putting together a production. While in the audience watching the school's spring production of Anastasia, Likes suddenly found himself called upon to step onto the stage.
Spencer Rich, who played the role of comic lead Vlad, had injured his leg, and by intermission, it was clear he wouldn't be able to finish the performance. When Likes saw what was happening, he leapt to action. "When I went backstage, and I saw his leg, I didn't say anything to anyone. I just put my phone up to my ear, and I started listening to the music, because I've seen this happen before and I knew what was about to happen."
Likes, who was unfamiliar with Anastasia prior to the performance, told Playbill, "I was announced as Marty McFly on March 1, and I hopped on a plane the next day so I could catch opening night of Anastasia, and I got to see the show in its entirety. Just one time. Act Two, I'd never seen it in its entirety except for that one time."
Rich had been a freshman when Likes was a senior, and the pair had fostered a friendship. Likes knew that Rich would try to push himself to keep the show going, and he took the initiative to intervene. "I know the thing where you push yourself; it's never good. Spencer's a friend, and I was super upset to see this happen on his senior show. But I knew that if I wanted him to be OK, he couldn't push it that night."
What happened next was a swirl of activity as Likes was quickly costumed, his phone buried in his ear playing the original Broadway cast album as a copy of the script was scrounged up. Minutes later, Likes was on stage, script in hand, with less preparation than most performers have for auditions.
"They made an announcement as theatres do. And I guess there were a few people who were familiar with my work in the audience," Likes chuckles. He is humble but he's actually something of a hometown hero. Likes went straight from the teenage theatre program to Broadway, after a high school production of Les Misérables directed by his mother catapulted him to the Jimmy Awards, where he caught the attention of the Almost Famous team.
At Anastasia, the company came together to save the show with Likes, filling him in on months of rehearsals backstage in between scenes. "I had a wonderful co-actress by the name of Amaya Cooks who was playing the Countess, and she was kind of pushing me around," Likes recalls. "We had a whole dance sequence, and she just didn't miss a beat getting me through it." Throughout the second act, the cast fed Likes his blocking and pulled him into position to keep the show moving. "During one of the dance breaks, I threw my book, and as soon as I did it, I instantly regretted it. Eventually that dance break has to end, and as soon as it ended, I had to go get my book, and then we waited for about 20 seconds until I found my page," Likes is bashful, if unrepentant. "Little moments like that kind of kept the audience on their feet while I tried to stay upright."
As he looks back on his meteoric year, Likes can't help but recognize the full circle aspect of his stint as an emergency replacement. "It's always nice to come back to Arizona after the things I do, to feel like me. I would be nothing without my people here in Arizona. Those people got me here. On that stage, with a bunch of kids banding together to make it happen, it was inspirational. It was an amazing experience."
Thankfully, Rich was able to return to the role in a modified fashion the next day, making Likes' Vlad a one-night-only event. While Likes got a rush from experience, don't hold out hope for another sudden replacement gig in his future. "Oh, I hope it never happens again! My mom and I always joked for years that this would happen, and we always made jokes about it. But honestly, I really, really just enjoyed watching it the next day, much more than I enjoyed going on."
Below, see photos of Likes in the Chandler High School production of Anastasia.