Levi Kreis made waves in the New York theater scene two years ago when his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet earned him the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Now, the Southern heartthrob is back in New York for two performances at 54 Below on November 20 and 21. Below, the actor and recording artist discusses some musical theater favorites, his difficult emotional journey and his not-so-secret love of One Direction.
What record/album was your favorite growing up?
I recall being mesmerized by Mary Chapin Carpenter's album Come On, Come On. Her ability to articulate deeply personal yet universal experiences in song was right on time for me. I started writing songs at the age of 12. One of the first songs I ever wrote was awarded at the Billboard Songwriting Contest. It was then I knew that I had to really develop my craft. Rooting myself in a simple, universal approach made the most sense to me. She was so vulnerable. Songwriting became a diary to me. I think that's why my solo show is so deeply revealing. It's all I've known.
What concert most influenced you as a performer?
I saw Brenda Lee in concert many times as a kid. She was a friend of my mother's, and I witnessed the dynamic charisma that makes her a legend. But as a tow-headed kid watching her conversation backstage, she always seemed unimpressed with the acknowledgement most performers yearn to acquire. It's just who she is, and it doesn't make her any more "important" or "worthy" than anyone else. The impression she made on me is profound, for she represents that place I always strive to live. She also said something I'll never forget: "Be loving to everybody, 'cause you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way back down." Brilliant!
What is your go-to audition song?
"Not While I'm Around." It was the first song I learned as a vocal student and reminds me of how pretty my teacher was. She was the sweetest.
What song are you most excited to perform in your show?
I think I'm most excited to share my personal journey with people. My journey through six years of religious therapy to "heal my sexuality," domestic violence, drug addiction and being only one year sober when I was thrown on a Broadway stage under the scrutiny of a community of veterans! My journey as been everything but conventional. It's never too late to start living your fullest potential and really loving your life. Today, I am an outspoken proponent of self love. Self love doesn't come easy. Believing in your gift is counter to what we are told is "humility," yet a celebration of self is what I hope to inspire in others.
What musical theater track is the most played on your iPod?
"Defying Gravity." I think that lyric embodies some profound spiritual principles.
If you could invite any performer onstage for a duet at 54 Below, who would it be?
Eden Espinosa. Or David Burnham. Knowing these two for many years, I always wished I had this gigantic belting voice. What talent to be in the presence of!! Ra-diculous! I confess I had a crush on Eden back in the day.
What musical theater performer from the past do you wish you could collaborate with?
I actually got to make that wish come true this year. One of them anyway: Sam Harris is dueting with me on my 2013 album release. Bernadette Peters would be right there at the top.
What album was the soundtrack to your 20s?
OMG! No Strings Attached by N'Sync! Eden and I totally went to that concert!! Such dorks!
What’s your favorite love song?
"A House Is Not a Home" by Luther Vandross.
What song makes you feel sexy?
"No Ordinary Love" by Sade.
What is your favorite workout track?
This is a tie. "Surrender Me (The Event Mix)" by Debby Holiday & Tony Moran and "Go Where the Music Takes You" by Sir Ari Gold. I stick by my indie music LGBT family.
What’s the best hidden gem in on your iPod?
"Tight Pants" by Leslie Hall. If you don't know…you bettah educate yo'self!
Favorite break-up song?
"I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt… which I always do in my show.
What song most makes you smile?
Uh…okay! "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction. See, I'm full grown man enough to admit it!
When this song plays, I can’t help but dance:
Anything Billy Porter sings in Kinky Boots! That show is going to hit Broadway in the soft part of the neck. (That's a compliment.)