Carol Dilley -- who as Young Belle Poitrine in Ford's current production of "Little Me" sings and dances her way from the other side of the tracks to a life of wealth, culture and social position -- is reflecting on the differences in re-creating the role three years after winning the Joseph Jefferson Award for her performance in the Chicago production.

"There's something about being just those three years older," she says, also noting the different stages (in Chicago, the musical was performed in the round) and the new cast members (though the core of the cast and the director/choreographer, David Bell, are the same). "This time, it took me longer to get the innocent persona," concedes Dilley, who during part of the first act of "Little Me" dons high-top sneakers and plays a 16-year-old.

Dilley says she shares certain characteristics with Belle (though losing seven suitors via an odd assortment of fatal calamities isn't one of them). "You would not believe how easy it is for me to do Belle," she says. Like Belle, Dilley grew up in Illinois and has "lived moment to moment. Everything good that happened to me, just kind of happened to me," she says.

A self-described "late-comer" to the stage, Dilley taught music in a Peoria elementary school for several years before a pleasant stint in local dinner theater persuaded her to make the move to Chicago and get her union card.

Though she views her subsequent move to New York as "opportunity knocking," Dilley continues to pursue interests aside from acting. For example, she works as a volunteer teacher in New York public schools and, when on the road, tutors elementary school children two days a week.

"It's important for me to be happy every day," she explains. "Not, 'Oh, I'll be happy when I get there.' I want to enjoy it as I go along." Bryant to Move to Tucson

Richard Bryant, director of public relations and marketing for Arena Stage since 1980, has been named managing director of the Arizona Theatre Company. Bryant, who was on the founding board of the Helen Hayes Awards and its first president, takes over the top management position of the Tucson-based company Feb. 1.

Bryant called his new job "an opportunity I'm quite excited about undertaking," but also said he would miss Washington, particularly his association with Zelda Fichandler, Arena's producing director, and Executive Director Thomas C. Fichandler.

"I really hope that I can take what they have shown me about theater as an art form and as a problem and use it wherever I go," he said.

Bryant's replacement has yet to be named. Top Billing

Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert will costar in Frederick Lonsdale's "Aren't We All?," which begins a four-week engagement at the Opera House Dec. 10 . . . Maurice Hines brings his new dance/musical, "Uptown . . . It's Hot," to the Warner Nov. 27 . . . Laurie Metcalf, who appeared at the Terrace last summer in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "Coyote Ugly," recently received Chicago's Joseph Jefferson award for her performance. Kid Stuff

The Round House Theatre's Children's Show Series starts Nov. 30 and continues for the following seven Saturdays with a different production each week. The shows, all of which incorporate audience participation, are geared toward children aged 5 through 12 and feature mimes, magicians, storytellers, jugglers, musicians and puppeteers. For ticket information call 468-4234 . . . The Kennedy Center's Programs for Children and Youth season continues Saturday with two performances of Susan Zeder's "Mother Hicks." Free; call 254-3600. Publications

American Theatre magazine, published by Theatre Communications Group, plans to print a complete dramatic script in alternating issues. The series starts this month with "Execution of Justice," Emily Mann's play about the Dan White murder trial, which was staged at the Arena last spring and is due to open on Broadway in February. TCG also has published as a novel Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia," the surrealistic monologue he performed last spring at New Playwrights'. For information on both publications write 355 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017. Openings

"A Walk Out of Water" opens tomorrow at the Studio . . . Magician Doug Henning begins a four-day run tomorrow at the Warner . . . "The Man Who Killed the Buddha" opens Monday at the Round House.