“It is all about life and energy,” testifies Levi Kreis. As those who have witnessed his audacious artistic authority will affirm, he certainly possesses plenty of both.
For his forthcoming CD, Levi mines a musical era that pulsates on the axis of sexual liberation and personal expression: the 70s, when R&B and dance music emerged from the black and gay communities as vital anthems of freedom. With soaring strings and hard-edged club beats, the enduring urban rhythms provide a fiery catalyst to Levi’s fearlessly rambunctious charisma, soulful voice, and compelling songcraft.
In 2010 Levi was presented with the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet. Even though he has feature film roles among his credits, he still never thought of himself as an actor at the onset. "It was a job in Chicago, and I was glad for the security,” he recalls. "It was nice to have some stability while my personal life was in turmoil. Then I was told we were going to New York." Within four months Levi was nominated for Broadway’s highest honor and appeared on television shows including The View, David Letterman, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. “It brought up all of my insecurities -- all of the nos and all of the rejections –- and it made me find out if I could handle success," he recalls. "I know who I am as an actor now."
During the Broadway run of Million Dollar Quartet, Levi would spend his off days traveling from New York City to headline solo shows at theaters across the United States. The SideXSide Tour is finely presented in an audio CD, Live at Joe’s Pub, recorded before a rapturous audience in the famed New York venue. “I wanted to put a period at the end of a sentence,” says Levi. “The live album is an homage to everything in my musical journey thus far, allowing me to start anew.”
Levi’s road from East Tennessee to Broadway began in Nashville, where as a Christian artist, he loved the camaraderie but chafed at the hypocrisy. Groomed for a major label signing in New York City, he discovered instead an unlikely outlet when he was featured on the hit television show The Apprentice, and a hastily assembled album of ballads titled One of the Ones brought him to a national audience. Placement of the songs on network television -– NBC, CBS, FX, CW -- expanded his exposure exponentially. With The Gospel According to Levi, feature-film usages and a 350-city national tour upped the ante considerably.
His third CD, Where I Belong, distilled Levi’s gospel past and pop present into a formidable slate of songs. Videos on the Logo Network, a number-one video on MTVhive.com, a single premiering on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, chart positions on iTunes, a spot on Out magazine's annual Out100 list, and the inclusion of “I Should Go” on the finale of the second season of The Vampire Diaries, introduced him to ever-larger audiences.
For his new CD, Levi went directly to his fans for financial support. The response was overwhelming, and the connection runs deep: 11 of his songs are based on stories told to him by backers of the project. “I wanted to answer with positive, affirming theme songs,” he explains. The songs can be experienced on multiple levels: an audience dancing to the synth saturated “Four-Letter Word” might not realize that the storyline is about a solider whose personal life has been compromised by the military’s insidious “Don't Ask Don't Tell” campaign, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the deportation of his life partner. It is Levi’s genius for connecting the patchwork histories of others to his own experience that is most revealing -- "telling the spiritual truth of someone else’s story," he observes of these narratives.
While his recent accolades and visibility denote a tremendous arc in his career, there are more new beginnings and decisions for Levi Kreis, as recent studies in metaphysical ministry and a move back to New York to renew his deep love affair with the city confirm. “Nothing is a better teacher than struggle,” he says. “Let’s take all of the limiting beliefs and get rid of them, and realize that we live in an infinite, unlimited universe that merely reflects back what we believe. That’s my anthem of freedom these days.”