Interview: Levi Kreis Takes Us Way Down To Hadestown

hadestown

Levi Kreis and company in the Hadestown North American Tour (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Hadestown, The Musical
Paramount Theatre
July 12-17, 2022 get tickets and info here.

Levi Kreis is a busy guy! He’s been active in musical theatre for over ten years and even won a Tony Award for his performance in Million Dollar Quartet. He’s appeared in movies, written the soundtracks for several others, and has recorded nine albums. His charm and easy appeal was evident when we chatted about his varied career, and his current role as Hermes, the narrator of the smash hit, Hadestown, winner of eight (2019) Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Levi Kreis: I am fortunate enough to say that Brenda Lee was a friend of the family. I had the opportunity of being with her for many years in various performance situations. I toured on a bus with her for a summer, and was back stage while she was performing. She is definitely the one I credit with giving me my work ethics. She was impeccable on that note. She always said, “Be Nice to everyone you meet on the way up, as you’ll meet the same people on the way down”. Watching her have such a command over the audience, as a young kid, that was something you can value. What a gift. Brenda just pales in comparison to anyone else. I’m hard pressed to mention anyone that is on the same caliber of influence as her.

Andrews-Katz: How does a young boy from rural Tennessee get interested in musical theatre?
Kreis: I did not know I was going to fall in love with Musical Theatre. I always considered myself a recording artist. From the time I was 12 years old, I was singing at different churches or revivals all over the southern U.S. I thought that was going to be my world. When that fell apart for me, I went to L.A. and went to a cattle call for RENT. I found myself on the national tour as ‘Roger’. I was so green and wet behind the ears. It was a good experience, even though I was probably not a good ‘Roger’, and fell in love with the experience. It is not that far removed from what I was doing. I was still communicating a song, and if you believe in what you are singing, they [the audience] will believe in it, too.

Andrews-Katz: You’ve said that the church was very influential in your life. How so?
Kreis: I can say that spirituality in general, whether it introduces itself as The Church, or however I believe in to be now, which is more like a source of Higher Power, that appeals to your individual journey. The fact that there is something to root myself in, and when I had to get sober – 13 years now – it took me time to reconcile with that. I had to be able to plug into my spirit and to nurture it, my mind and body. That fundamental take away is what I needed. I may not associate myself with The Church, but I am grateful that I can get back to my roots of spirit.

Andrews-Katz: Has your place in The Church ever conflicted with your personal life?
Kreis: I think we all deal with that on a micro level in some way. It’s part of being a beautifully messy human. It’s always learning to heed that Higher Self and nudging yourself onward. We need to get to listen more to that part that knows what self-love is, more than a meme or a popular topic, or ‘fashionable spirituality’. I don’t think they [self love and spirituality] are that separate from one another. It’s about doing the things that really makes me feel proud.

Andrews-Katz: You’ve produced and released over nine CDs of music [on Vision 9 Records]. How do you choose the style and songs for each individual project?
Kreis: I think the benefit of being an independent artist is that I have the freedoms to express myself in any way that is proper for me, depending on what I am going through, and who I am. My favorite album – that I’ve put out – is my Pride album “Imagine Paradise” (2013). For me it was the first time I got to pen some lyrics that reflected the social issues we deal with in the LGBT+ community. I wanted to embody the musical influences that define a beautiful era of politics in our community. I think of things more conceptually than I do if I’m staying in my lane, because I enjoy so much of life. I might think that sounds different from album to album, but friends tell me that my work is distinguishable, and always ‘sounds like Levi’. That’s a good thing.

Andrews-Katz: Aside from producing your music on CD, your music has been used on soundtracks, and you’ve worked in films as well. Which format (theatre, producing your own CDs, soundtracks, or acting in films) produces the most challenges, and why?
Kreis: I think creating your own records is definitely the most challenging. I think it is a blessing to stand in line and be seen for a role, to get it, and to not have to think about the machine of how it is released or the marketing of it. As an independent artist we wear all of those hats. I worked for 10 years as an actor. I thought it was easier. I didn’t have to build the machine around the work I was doing. However, my tune is changing recently as I’m focusing on bringing all of those worlds together. It appeals to me. I’m currently writing a new musical. I’m hoping to get it all together and that it’ll give me a nice framework for the recording of it. I’m exploring how to merge all of it. It’s my music and I am finally creating both worlds.

Andrews-Katz:  A new musical? Can you tell us about it?
Kreis: Unfortunately, I really can’t talk about it too much right now. We’ve had a few workshops and an audience so far. That’s about all I can say.

Andrews-Katz: You won the Tony Award for playing Jerry Lee Lewis in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’. What are the challenges of playing a real life person opposed to a fictional one?
Kreis: I think the challenge for any actor, I believe, is in the way they approach a role. If it is a real life story, they need to be inspired by it, whether it’s Carol King in Beautiful, or Jerry Lee Lewis in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’, or Tina Turner in ‘Tina’. It’s important that an actor walks the line and is clear about their qualities to bring to the role. You need to find your own stamp that makes it uniquely you. My friend Leslie Jordan said, “What makes you unique is your commodity, and to put your own stamp on it!” When you get to play someone who is famous it can be tricky. I was told [by the directors of Million Dollar Quarter] that this was NOT an impersonation. The directors helped me find ways to weigh out what was really important, and encouraged me to sink my teeth into it and explore the role to make it mine.

Andrews-Katz: You coined the phrase: “The Illusion of Limitation”. Would you please elaborate on what this phrase means to you?
Kreis: That was from [San Diego’s] Rage Monthly [May, 2010]. That is a phrase that I believe to mean, that there is only One Power and One Presence in The Universe. It is the infinite intelligence that we see in all things. It’s Nature, and only Nature knows what is required of itself, and be that one thing at all times. It’s displayed for us on a daily basis so we can see and appreciate it. We are not separate from that ‘intelligence’ force. One of the beautiful things about our bodies is that we can restore the wholeness we need when we are lacking it. That force makes up the truth. The universe is one in itself, and that the Infinite Intelligence knows no limitation. We can look at the landscapes of our lives, and replace the ‘illusions of limitation’ with the fact that The Universe is limitless, and so are we. We can attract the thoughts that we see appear before us. Limitations are the illusion.

Andrews-Katz: Hadestown is the Broadway smash hit that retells the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, as well as Persephone and Hades. How would you describe the story updates?
Kreis: I love that Anaïs Mitchell [Hadestown Book, Composer & Lyricist] took the opportunity to place these love stories alongside each other. They are very much in different stages of their romances. Hades/Persephone have been together for years. They have baggage and complications. Orpheus/Eurydice have new things to work out. They are bringing new views on life into their relationship. She is hungry and he wants to change the world with a song. Hermes the Ambassador of this show pulls it together when he tells Orpheus: “I’ll tell you where the real road lies, between your ears and behind your eyes”. This can turn out however you want it to be, in accordance to what you believe. This is why I labeled my album “Imagine Paradise”, because I believe that if you can imagine it, if you can see it, and then you can make it happen. While in the show Love wins the day, what we are left with is that we live this life the way we can; and we do it again and again, until we realize that we can decide the way to follow the road, and which road we follow.

hadestown

Hadestown North American Tour (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Andrews-Katz: Hadestown uses blues and jazz for the musical score. How does it appeal to your roots of rockabilly and gospel music?
Kreis: The music of Hadestown was the first thing that drew me to it. It’s because it draws from blues, and the roots of music. It’s Americana, and encompasses all of that. I felt that what I was hearing was what was in myself. I knew the music. I knew the history of it. That was all I’ve known! It was an immediate friend as if saying, “I see you. I know you.” That was one of the parts of this show that was the most fun to wrap myself around it as much as I can.

Andrews-Katz: In Hadestown you play Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods. What challenges do you face getting into the character, and what responsibilities does Hermes present?
Kreis: Oh, that’s a good one. For me, I spend my 30 minutes-half-hour call in meditation. I try to think about certain memories that I [Hermes] have made with Orpheus or Persephone. I have my own fleshed out history that serves the book with Hades, so I can live the show by maintaining those memories. That’s important to me. I find that there is never a challenge if I’m sitting in that space, and live through that space with honesty. My backstory has gotten so broad because I keep creating new things, to keep my character fresh. Now I have my own set of little tricks that may not be legitimate mythology, but the stories help me keep it fresh for eight shows a week. I never want to ‘phone it in’. I can’t do that. I want to be stay at the top surface. In Hadestown, my character allows people to make their own choices. It involves me, but I can stand alongside the audience and try to help the characters through it. It means something to my character that Orpheus succeeds, and Persephone makes her choices.

Andrews-Katz: If Hadestown is a fable, what is the moral of the tale?
Kreis: I feel like that was previously addressed. I believe our thoughts are things that we can create, and we create our own responsibilities. Of course there’s the other moral that Love is enduring, and that’s true as well.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Kreis: My only answer is what I am doing now, the musical I’m writing and the role I’m creating for myself. I realize that it’s not really an answer to the question, but I am so in love with what is being created, and the inspiration I’ve found, that I don’t want to step into something that has been done. I want to create something from the ground up, and I’m lucky enough to be doing that.

Levi Kreis (https://www.levikreis.com) won the 2010 Tony Award for his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet. Other Broadway credits include various roles in the revival of the musical Violet, 2014. He has released eight CDs since his debut album “One of The Ones” in 2005, and won the OutMusic Award for his song “Stained Glass Window”. His film credits include Frailty, A Very Sordid Wedding, and The Divide among others.

Hadestown, The Musical
Paramount Theatre
July 12-17, 2022 get tickets and info here.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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