Levi Kreis personified Jerry Lee Lewis in the musical Million Dollar Quartet. After taking the show to New York and winning a Tony, the talented ( and out ) singer returns to Chicago to reunite in the space where it all began with the cast and play a solo show as well.
Windy City Times: Hello, Levi. So you are coming back to Chicago…
Levi Kreis: I can't wait. I have missed Chicago.
WCT: When was the last time that you were here?
Levi Kreis: Late January. When you are living in midtown Manhattan it feels like forever.
WCT: Your show is at the Apollo Theater.
Levi Kreis: Yeswhere Million Dollar Quartet is still playing and where we opened it. It was my last place performing there and where everything began for me here on Broadway. It is great to not only be with Million Dollar Quartet but also my church is there, a wonderful supportive place for our community.
WCT: What is that called?
Levi Kreis: It's called Bodhi Spiritual Center. They have a wonderful LGBT group there that is thriving. They are getting the word out that we are perfect just the way we are. We don't need fixin'!
WCT: Exactly. I saw Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo with you in the role. That is a breakout part. Congrats on the Tony.
Levi Kreis: Thank you. It is fun to be called a Tony Award-winning actor, even for me it is strange to hear.
WCT: You are from Tennessee, just like me.
Levi Kreis: You are? I am from Oliver Springs, which is a stones throw from Dollywood.
WCT: Did you always want to do theater?
Levi Kreis: I never made any major life decision based on wanting to do musical theater. It has never been on my radar, which makes it more interesting. I had just finished over 350 cities touring my own album. Acting was never something that I pursued but always fell into. I had just finished The Gospel According to Levi and I wanted to sit down and write Where I Belong. So I was planning to write it in Chicago and the next thing I know they invited me to do the show in New York.
Levi Kreis: The entire experience has made me realize something about myself that I avoided because I had a paralyzing fear, Jerry, well this is a story that merits telling and I am on my first cup of coffee for the day. When I first moved to LA my friend picked up a copy of Backstage West, which is an audition publication. I think I would love to experience what LA is all about and see what an actors world is like. I didn't have a picture or resume and did not know what this thing called Rent was. I am 167th in line at a cattle call around the block. Six callbacks and six months later I get called for the part of Roger for the west coast tour.
WCT: That is a wild ride.
Levi Kreis: It is something that is indicative of something within me that is trying to get out. To intentionally pursue it, I was too afraid. Every opportunity that I have had has slid in the back door, so to speak. The winning of the Tony was not the enjoyable experience that it would be for other people. I can't even own the word actor let alone Tony Award winning actor so I have to learn to find my power very quickly and understand my instincts are good and I can validate this within myself and give it a life instead of running from it.
WCT: Well, this is all so intimidating.
Levi Kreis: I came home and put that Tony in the back of the closet and could not look at it for three months! To look at it made me afraid to go to work, because I felt like I was fraud. How could I wear this title when this is something that I had never pursued? The past four months have been me recognizing my gift. Actor is equal to recording artist in my mind now.
WCT: This is an exciting time for you.
Levi Kreis: I love this book called the Big League because it talks about all the upper limits that we create in our own mind. We sort of start dreaming smaller because we possibly can't think that could happen for us. I have been trying to remove the ceiling on my upper limit for the past five months.
WCT: I think as gay men we are beat down sometimes.
Levi Kreis: You are absolutely right. We are already inherently flawed as a kid. How could we possibly feel good enough to own our accomplishments?
WCT: Are you currently in a relationship?
Levi Kreis: Yes, I am. I have been together with a new partner for a year. This was after four years of being domestic partners. We just grew apart.
WCT: You are working on a fifth album, right?
Levi Kreis: I started writing material for my fourth album but it is my fifth release. I came back and realized that I put a lot of work in Where I Belong and while Million Dollar Quartet has been great, I have not given the vision and energy to this product that I want to give to it. I put the pen and the paper done and decided to go on the road with this album. I want to get this to radio and let the world hear this project. The wonderful thing about being an independent artist is that we don't care about release dates. I can work this album for the next five years if I want to!
WCT: That is convenient.
Levi Kreis: There is always someone that has not heard it. As an independent artist there is always more persistence because we don't have a machine cramming "California Gurls" down everybody's throat!
WCT: That is true.
Levi Kreis: The great thing is that our community has been on board since the beginning because they have been supportive of my career since my debut album, when I came out and went on the road with Eric Himan in the first place and it was sponsored by gay.com . We took out in 2006 and hit, like, 65 cities together in three dayssomething ridiculous like that!
WCT: Sounds like a lot of work.
Levi Kreis: I had that core support but realized there are indie music listeners, spiritual circles and 35-to-45 [ year-old ] women that are slowly discovering it now. I wanted to get as much reach with it as possible. I am more proud of this album than any project that I have done.
WCT: Great. Does Million Dollar Quartet have an end date?
Levi Kreis: It is an open-ended run. My contract will be over in a few months but they are planning London and a tour; Chicago is still running strong.
WCT: When I saw it I knew my parents would love a show like this, growing up with Johnny Cash and all.
Levi Kreis: Oh. yeah; our parents totally dig the show. It's a good mom and dad date night. I have to say that I love you wearing the nun outfit on your website.
WCT: [ Laughs ] Well, I am honored that you checked it out!
Levi Kreis: Of, course. I was just looking at it this morning.
WCT: I can't wait to see your show.
Levi Kreis: Are you going to review it or just attend and smile your smile?
Where I Belong: An Intimate Evening With Levi Kreis is on Monday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. along with Eric Himan and Jason Antone at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln. Call 773-935-6100 or visit www.apollochicago.com for tickets.