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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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Caissie Levy is making Canada proud on Broadway

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Caissie Levy

Caissie Levy describes herself on Twitter as a Canadian New Yorker, which suits her perfectly.

Although the talented performer grew up in Hamilton, Ont., she’s been rooted in the Big Apple for more than a decade, because Levy just so happens to be one of Canada’s most in-demand exports on Broadway.

The 32-year-old’s Broadway credits include leading roles in Hair, Hairspray and last year’s Ghost: The Musical. She also starred as the green-skinned Elphaba in the Los Angeles company of Wicked. Despite having lived a good chunk of her life south of the border, Levy says she still misses her native Canada. 

“It’s funny because I grew up in Hamilton and I moved to New York at 19, so my entire adult life has been in New York,” she says. “So I don’t know Toronto all that well – like I actually don’t know my way around, even though a lot of my friends and family still live there.

“But I miss just Canadianisms in general. I still say ‘eh’ constantly, so that’s like the dead giveaway to Americans… But I miss Tim Hortons, that’s something I miss. I miss the general vibe of Canada and Ontario specifically. It’s a welcoming place – it’s so multicultural.”

Both of her parents were singers and musicians, so Levy grew up surrounded by music. As a family, the Levys constantly drove to Toronto from Hamilton to catch the latest musical theatre shows. “Everything we did as a family involved music, so I think from a very early age I always loved singing, I always loved acting, so I got put into those lessons and started doing plays from the time I was eight,” she reveals. “Just community theatre things, nothing professional.”

The Hamilton native landed her first professional gig – a U.S. national tour of Rent – just a week after graduating acting school, at the tender age of 21. “It was pretty surreal because I grew up worshipping that show, and I actually remember I saw it in Toronto and I was just obsessed,” Levy says. “And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I just connected so much to the story.”

Being on tour introduced her to life on the road and performing every night. “It was a huge honour, and I think, had I realized what a big deal it was at the time, it would have freaked me out,” Levy laughs. “But because I was so young and just so excited, I just kind of went with it and jumped into it and had the best time.”

Levy made her Broadway debut playing Penny in the Tony Award-winning Hairspray. “I remember as soon as the lights went off I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m on Broadway after all these years of dreaming about it. This came true,’” Levy says. “It was incredible.”

She adds: “It was a real blessing because I got to have my big-time Broadway debut in a role that I’ve been quite comfortable in. So even though I was nervous, I knew I could kind of rely on the fact that it wasn’t a brand-new role, which was nice.”

Her next major role on Broadway was Sheila in 2009’s critically acclaimed revival of Hair. “I’ve been really fortunate to relate to a lot of my characters on various levels, but I guess if I had to pick the one I relate to the most it would be Sheila in Hair,” says Levy. “She’s very independent, very outspoken, very passionate and a very emotional person.”

The following year, mega producer Cameron Mackintosh brought Hair to London’s West End with most of the Broadway cast reprising their roles – including Levy. Near the end of the show’s U.K. run, she scored an audition for Ghost: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie. Levy admits she didn’t know what to think about the project at first, but after hearing that the original screenwriter was adapting the show and that rock legends Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart were involved, she knew the play was in good hands. Levy eventually scored the gig and got to originate the role of Molly Jensen in the West End in 2011 and on Broadway the following year.

“I was actually travelling with my now-husband at the time I got the job, so we moved back to the U.K. for another year and a half,” she says. “And originating the role was another huge honour, a huge learning experience, a huge challenge. Just kind of starting from scratch… and getting the words on the page and then transforming that into a fully realized person without any blueprint. It was very unnerving but so creatively satisfying.”

So what’s next for the hardworking performer? She’s starring in a four-person musical called Murder Ballad, premièring off-Broadway this month. Levy says the immersive nature of the new show is different from anything she’s ever done before. 

“There’s no actual stage,” she reveals. “There’s actually a bar that’s been built in the Union Square Theater. So the audience sits at tables and can order drinks from the bar, which is also part of our set. And the action of the show takes place on their tables, around their tables and chairs, on the bar, up the aisles. So it’s really innovative, really in-your-face.” 

Levy is also looking to nab more film and TV credits. “You know, theatre is my home and I’ll always love it, and I’ll always want to be on Broadway and off-Broadway and work in theatres around the country. But it’s also a hard lifestyle to lead when you’re 50 and 60 or when you want to have a child.

“If those things are in my future, it would be nice to get some film work and some television work under my belt just to not have to do eight shows a week. ‘Cause that’s incredibly tiring,” she laughs. “But at this stage of my life, it’s wonderful.”

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