DETROIT – At just 22 years old, Dillon Klena has performed as the leading man in dozens of musicals. He’s been Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables and even Troy Bolton in High School Musical.
Now, he’s playing the role of Nick Healy across the country, a role his older brother, Derek Klena, originated in Jagged Little Pill on Broadway.
Klena shares what it’s like to be in his first career role, meeting Alanis Morrissette and the surprising similarities he shares with his brother.
So how is it touring with Jagged Little Pill?
It’s good. It’s a new experience for most of us because we’re younger. It’s nice to have that newness that everyone gets to experience at the same time, so we all have each other to lean on. I’ve never done a show that’s this long, so I’m learning how to perform every night even when you feel like you’re not ready emotionally. Growing up, I did regional theater where you did a show from Thursday to Sunday, but now it’s a full-time job. You have to figure out ways to get yourself in that headspace and because Jagged has so many interesting and deep issues that we discuss in the show, it’s hard to get to that place and always be emotionally available. So learning how to navigate as an actor and as a human being, and to discipline yourself a bit more is very interesting. I’m happy to have this experience.
What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about touring?
When we go to new cities, we just jump into the show, we don’t really have rehearsal. It always surprises me how we can just get to a new place and learn everything new about what happens backstage. Everywhere we go, it’s the same setup, but the dressing rooms are in a different spot, the way you get to the other side of the stage is different. Everywhere we go, it’s a new experience, but that’s what keeps it fresh and exciting.
I keep thinking how even when I’m tired or feel like I can’t do another show, I have to think about what we’re doing and what makes this so important. And anybody would be lucky to be in our shoes, so it humbles you because I was chosen to be in the show. So to be in this new space, to be on this national tour, it’s the craziest thing ever. To see the reactions from the audience members that come to the stage door, people are so touched by the story and our show. We’re not doing it just for us, we’re doing it for the people who need the show and need to hear these things.
How do you deal with Jagged’s heavy themes eight times a week?
We’re playing our characters and even though we connect to something in our character, by the end of the show you leave with this hopeful feeling where everyone is coming together. Now we leave it at the door. I’ve also gotten into baths. After a show, it is just so soothing. And being in a show with people you enjoy being around is also the best. After the show, I’ll hang with some of the cast or we’ll eat together. That kind of gets you out of that headspace.
You’re playing a role your brother originated. How does it feel and did he give you any advice?
It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This stuff rarely happens. My brother, he’s awesome. When I booked the role, we had dinner that night and he just talked about how certain things are going to happen. I watched his process, I saw the show at ART in 2018, I’ve watched the show change over time. So, seeing his journey of how his character evolved and changed over time, I used that as a springboard. Because he’s seven years older than me, there’s a generational difference. What was important to him when he grew up was different from what was important when I grew up. It’s very interesting to take this role and do my own thing with it, but also paying homage to what’s been done before.
It’s been a great experience and I feel like I’m doing the role of Nick justice for everyone in the country. The cool thing about being the same character as your brother is that I get to wear the same shoes that he wore on Broadway. That was my choice. We were doing fittings for costumes and they told me to try these shoes on, but that we would get another size later. It fit like a glove. I asked if I can just wear these shoes. I look in the soles and they say “D. K.” I was like, “Guys, you don’t even have to change the tag!”
There’s a line in the show that Nick says and we both flub on that line. Heidi Blickenstaff (who plays Mary Jane Healy, Nick’s mother, on tour and played Mary Jane on Broadway), who has witnessed each of us play this role, told me that Derek also had the same issue with that phrase. I don’t know what it is but sometimes the words just get jumbled in your mouth. It’s just kind of funny comparing us based on just being siblings.
What do you and your character Nick have in common?
I didn’t think we had much in common before, but after doing the show, I definitely started connecting to the character a lot. I’ve seen things that I take and put into the character just from growing up and seeing kids in high school that were going through the same situation and putting that into this human and making him as human as possible.
There’s this whole overachieving son aspect that I’ve connected with as well, just by doing theater growing up and always having to be good, dealing with criticism. In the theater world, learning about that stuff at a very young age and always knowing people were not criticizing your work, but critiquing it. I’m learning new things about the role and myself almost every day. That’s a good thing. I’m very thankful for it.
Jagged Little Pill already has this huge fan base, both for Broadway and Alanis Morissette’s iconic music. How is it dealing with this fandom?
I love the fans. I love when people come to see the show because they sit through a show for two and a half hours and then they still want to meet you and will usually wait 20 to 30 minutes. We were in Baltimore and it was pouring rain outside. I walked out and there were 10 people waiting in this rain. You have to take the time to get to know them. I remember when I was little and saw someone I was starstruck with, they changed my whole perspective of theater, and this show does that for people. It really makes the show for me, personally. All the fans are great and we’re really lucky that people are enjoying the show.
Have you met Alanis yet?
We have a couple of times. We met her in LA at our opening night. Then we had a rehearsal session in San Francisco with her. We got to talk to her about her songwriting experience and some of the meanings to her songs. I asked her a question about “Perfect” because that’s the song I sing in the show. I was asking her about her motivation and the reason for writing the bridge. She’s such a cool, down-to-Earth person. She’s so, so smart and so real. She left me with a quote that she left to all of us: “The sensitive shall inherit the Earth.”
After the pandemic, I learned a lot about my own emotions and I’ve become more sensitive to certain things. When I heard that, it really resonated with me because I feel like being sensitive is usually looked down upon, so I took being sensitive as strength because not many people can feel that way.
If your character, Nick, had the chance to sing any other song in the show, what would it be?
“That I Would Be Good.” There’s a trio between Phoenix, Frankie and Joe. Because I listen to that song every night, I’m like, “Oh, Nick really does connect with this song.” What if they made this as a quartet with Nick too because all the words and lyrics resonate as well.
Do you feel any pressure singing Alanis’ music every night?
Because the songs are so iconic, it’s kind of intimidating. People are waiting for it, they’re waiting for those songs. Having the pressure is a little daunting. “Perfect” is the only song in the show that’s not really accompanied by any ensemble members so it’s just me on stage singing. That’s pretty nerve-wracking because you never know how it’s going to come out and also having the aspect of Derek, my brother. I get a little bit of anxiety every time but I use that as fuel, as my motivation, and use that to my advantage. It’s wild.
What’s one thing we ‘oughta know’ about Dillon Klena?
I live by this quote and it sums me up as a human: Be somebody that makes everybody feel like a somebody. That was my senior quote in high school, so it’s kind of been my mantra throughout my adult life.
What should Detroiters expect at Jagged Little Pill?
You’re going to be going through a rollercoaster of a time, a rollercoaster of emotions. But by the time you leave, you will have lived and you will have learned.
Jagged Little Pill is recommended for ages 14 and up and is playing at the Fisher Theatre from February 14 to 26. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.