Chandler native bound for big time on stage, screen - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler native bound for big time on stage, screen

August 18th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler native bound for big time on stage, screen

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Actor Casey Likes’ career is about to reach a new level as he prepares for his Broadway debut and feature roles in two new films. It’s probably not a surprise to those who knew Likes as he was growing up and a student at Chandler High School.

He has always been a bit theatrical. But how quickly he’s rising comes as even a surprise to Likes.

“You know, I was just talking to someone about it last night about how before I booked ‘Almost Famous’ I thought that I wouldn’t reach Broadway or films or TV for another, I mean at the very least five years, but realistically I thought at least 10 years,” Likes said from his grandparents’ South Chandler home.

He was back in Chandler for a few weeks before leaving Aug. 2 to prepare for his Broadway debut in the stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning film, “Almost Famous.” Preview performances begin Oct. 3 and it debuts on Nov. 3 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York.

The 20-year-old Likes also has the lead role in a horror film called “Dark Harvest,” and plays KISS rocker Gene Simmons in another film, “Spinning Gold.” Both of those films are scheduled for release this fall.

That’s a fast rise for a young man who just a few years ago was building an elaborate Haunted House at his grandparents’ house every Halloween.

“Little did I know what we were getting into,” said Diana Likes, after her grandson asked if he could turn their home into a haunted house. “Every year he had between 40 and 50 costumed actors. And he built and directed the whole thing.”

She said he would take over their home for about a month and a half and had hundreds of people streaming through each night. Likes asked for a food donation that was given to a local food bank.

But now he’s ready for a bigger stage. And despite how fast his career is accelerating, he still had to wait to make his Broadway debut.

Likes was cast as the lead in ‘Almost Famous’ in 2019, playing the teen-age reporter who gets to follow around a band to write a story for Rolling Stone magazine. The show was making its pre-Broadway run in San Diego, where they were tinkering with it daily, trying to improve it before it reaches New York.

The story is semi-autobiographical for the writer and director of the film, Cameron Crowe.

“Every day you’d go to your mailbox, and it’d be a new few pages to learn. And then sometimes, when we were in these things called previews, you would get a new song, or you would get a new scene on the day of and then you perform it that night. So yeah, that was a really insane process. I’ve never experienced that before.”

But before they could reach Broadway the pandemic began and theaters around the world went dark. He appeared as Brian Moses in the TV series, The Birch. And he wrote, produced and directed two short films to stay busy.

He said when he’s not performing eight shows a week for the next year on Broadway, he hopes to work on some new writing projects that he’ll be able to direct in the future – something he very much wants to keep doing.

Both Likes and his grandmother can pinpoint the moment his career began to take off.

“It was the Jimmy Awards,” Diana said.

Likes had played Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” while at Chandler High School. That performance was nominated for the National High School Music Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmys.

It was a moment of serendipity. Likes credits most of his success to his mother, Stephanie, who performed on Broadway in “Les Miserables.”

When he placed among the finalists, Likes started getting calls.

“When I booked ‘Almost Famous,’ it was right off of this thing I did call the Jimmy awards. I was only 17,” he said.

“Spinning Gold” is a biopic of Neil Bogart, who signed KISS to his new record label, Casablanca. Likes said when he auditioned for the role of the legendary KISS bassist, they never asked him questions you would think would be obvious.

“Do you know how to play bass? Are you in a KISS cover band? Did he ask you to do the tongue in the audition? And the answer to all of those things are no,” Likes said.

Instead, he said the key moment in the audition came when he was asked why he was perfect for this role and why it should be his.

“I’m sitting there, I’m like, ‘I don’t think it is mine.’ But I’m gonna lie to this guy, I’m gonna straight up lie to him.”

So Likes answered the question like he thought Gene Simmons would, filled with confidence.

“I basically just went on a rant for about 10 minutes, at the end of it I said, ‘you know, you can take your other meetings, but you’re just not going to find anyone else, because I’m your guy.’”

In “Dark Harvest” Likes plays a young man trying to escape a town by proving himself against the local monster, called October Boy. The film is adapted from the Norman Partridge book.

He may have left those haunted houses he used to build at his grandparents’ home behind, but he’s still scaring people.

“I love horror,” Likes said. “It’s great, because seeing someone in the most primal state of themselves, which is fear, is insane. You just see exactly who they are.”