While the world has adored her in her stage roles across the continent, a young Caissie Levy got her start in musical theater at Westdale Secondary here in Hamilton. Upon graduating in 1999, Levy enrolled at New York’s prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy and hasn’t looked back. Her roles in the theater have included Penny Pingleton in Hairspray, Elphaba in Wicked and Sheila in Hair. She originated the role of Molly Jensen in Ghost the Musical and played Fantine in the 2014 Broadway revival of Les Miserables. Levy originated, and is currently Elsa in Frozen on Broadway. As a singer and educator, she remains active off the stage but this weekend, Levy leaves the guise of any theatrical character and enters the spotlight as simply herself for her first musical showcase back in her old stomping grounds.
“A lot of it has been hard work and determination mixed in with a little bit of luck,” offers Levy on her relatively quick transition from Westdale student to New York protege to Broadway star. “I came to New York when I was 19 to go to drama school and it was always my dream to go to New York so when I got here I was sure to work my ass off. I just went to every single audition and I think that’s why I started getting jobs — because I put myself out there. I didn’t wait around, I was a go–getter. I had the great fortune of playing Maureen in Rent for a national tour and that was my first job out of school. I learned so much just being on stage across the country every night.
“All the roles I’ve played have been special and they’re kind of like babies,” adds Levy on what might be a highlight from her career. “When you’re building a show. there’s a four week rehearsal process and then we’re opening on Broadway and having the reviews and the Tony Awards so you become a family with the people you’re creating these shows with. It’s hard to pick out a favourite but there are certainly moments that stand out like the first time I got to perform on the Tony Awards and this year, I performed on the Tonys for the fourth time. To be meshed in this community and to be able to be part of those big moments in Broadway are always really exciting. But every opening night is always like it’s all new again so it’s always special just to be on Broadway.”
Levy’s two year run with the Disney epic Frozen on Broadway is ending in February but her next role will be in a new production of the musical Caroline, Or Change. But before that, Levy sings outside of the dramatic realm but she’s no stranger to the concert stage. In concert, she’s headlined Carnegie Hall with the NY Pops, backed up Sir Rod Stewart during his Las Vegas residency, guested with The United States Military Academy at West Point, and performed solo shows to sold–out audiences across the US and the UK. With her voice on a wealth of soundtrack recordings for Frozen, Ghost, Hair and more as well as her own EP, With You, Levy has a wealth of material to draw from. But while the songs are rehearsed and the veteran performer has played to tens of thousands over the last twenty years, it’ll be the first official performance for Levy in the Hamilton/Burlington area since her performance of Maureen in Rent when that production came to Hamilton Place back in 2002.
“It’s a fun shift for me because I am used to playing a role in front of 1500 people on Broadway and then to play a more intimate space and to just be myself and tell stories from the times I’ve worked on these shows and share music I love — it’s creatively exciting for me to just sing with a band — it’s just me and I don’t have to act,” says Levy. “It’s more of cabaret style but there’s no plot line. There will be stories from my career and my life and tidbits about different music that has spoken to me over the years, what it’s like to be a mom on Broadway — all of those things get peppered into my live show. I love singing and really music has always been my first language so I sometimes get to do concerts where I get to sing a lot of the songs that are associated with my Broadway career but then also stuff off my EP, which is more acoustic, folk rock songs, as well as some pop songs that I love from Aretha Franklin, Rufus Wainwright, Carole King — these are songs that I've always loved that I love to sing live with a band.
“The more time you spend on stage the better you get and I love trading off being in a role and offering shows where i can just be myself — as long as there’s music involved, that always makes me happy,” continues Levy. “That’s why I’ve spent my life in the theater and also why I cultivated this side of my career in the concert world. It’s great to get this more intimate environment for a better one on one connection. I want to make sure the show is great for the hometown crowd so I hope to have happy nerves. That said, I hope the audience will know I’ll be able to entertain them whoever they are and offer a great night out.
“I grew up reading View Magazine so it’s great to finally be included,” laughs Levy. “My folks still live in Hamilton so I try to get back when I can but a Broadway schedule means eight shows a week and I have a husband and a son in New York but we try to get back whenever we can. It’s always a good feeling when I get back to Hamilton because it was just such a great place to grow up and I have such fond memories. I’m really excited to be able to come back and sing for a lot of the people that have supported me over the years. So many friends and family have flown to New York to see me perform in different shows so it’s nice to be able to come home to them and use these shows as a way to say thank you to the people that helped cheer me on. This is going to special with a hometown crowd and a hometown girl — I’m excited.”
Caissie Levy plays this Saturday January 25 at the Burlington Performing Arts Center at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $69.50 or $35 for youth. Click on caissielevy.com