Brian Dillon brought down the house when he played Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast" a dozen years ago at Dracut High School. He heard the applause, savored the acclaim and decided to pursue a career in musical theater.
Since making that decision, Dillon studied dancing and acting, graduated from Boston Conservatory, performed in many musicals in New York and regionally, including North Shore Music Theatre, and sailed the high seas as a performer for Disney Cruise Lines.
This summer, Dillon returns to his roots, making his Boston professional debut in the national tour of Disney's "Aladdin The Musical," playing the Boston Opera House from July 5 to Aug. 5.
"It is a real homecoming for me, and I'm playing my dream house -- the Boston Opera House.
Dillon's parents, Mary Ellen and Bill, and older sister, Caren, still live in Dracut. He has fond memories of his Dracut High days, when he played trumpet, was the drum major for the marching band, sang in the show choir and squeezed in baseball, too.
"I grew up doing shows in the renowned Dracut High spring musicals," recalled Dillon, who also appeared in "The Music Man" and was one of the brothers in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
"But it was my role as Gaston in 'Beauty and the Beast' my senior year that really made me want to pursue theater.
Dillon's success is no surprise to Leon Grande and Jack Neary, his directors in the Dracut shows.
"Brian was a handsome kid -- very strong on stage," recalled Grande, who headed Dracut High's fine and performing arts and music programs. "He was a hard worker, mature and a little reserved. But when he got on stage, he absolutely lit up. He was outstanding, and his success doesn't surprise me."
Neary agreed. "Gaston was his first major role during his time at Dracut High -- and he carried the part off with style and energy, along with a terrific singing voice."
A compliment from Neary during "Beauty and the Beast" impacted Dillon's career decision.
"I knew I wanted to do it after high school.
At Boston Conservatory, he performed in numerous shows, including "Show Boat," "Sweet Charity," "Tommy" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman." During college, he also worked as a member of Boston Children's Theatre's education team, choreographing and directing youth productions.
Ever since Gaston 12 years ago, Disney's lovable villains and rogues have played a big part in Dillon's stage work.
"Disney keeps coming back," Dillon said. "I've run the gamut of their lovable villains, from Gaston to doing their Villain Show on Disney Cruises.
He was also in the ensemble of the acclaimed production of Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" two summers ago at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.
Dillon joined the "Aladdin" national tour two months ago after auditioning on a regular basis over the past several years.
He's a "swing" cast member, which means he is backstage at every performance and ready to go on for any one of 13 characters he is prepared to cover.
"The swings rehearse a lot" so that they know their characters well, he said. "It's a lot of work, and swings are the unsung heroes, the backbone of the show.
He has been on stage a few times on tour, which is now in Philadelphia.
In Boston, he's already scheduled to appear on July 28 and 29.
"As a swing, I never know, but I am on call backstage all the time. My stage manager knows I am from Boston, so I hope to do many shows there."
Dillon is thrilled he followed his dreams after playing Gaston at Dracut High.
"I'm a secret introvert, quiet and reserved. But being on stage gave me confidence," he said, adding that having joined "this 'Aladdin' family" after the tour was underway "challenged my introverted side.
"But you have to put yourself out there, and I'm glad I did."
Nancye Tuttle's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.