BWW Interview: DANIEL C. LEVINE in Ridgefield
Kids love stories, and there's no better way to tell them than through the dynamics of a live theatre performance because it integrates words, music, dance, and costume to make those stories come to life. Actor, director and choreographer Daniel C. Levine has pulled it all together in the upcoming show Dancin' Broadway at The Ridgefield Playhouse.
The Ridgefield based actor graduated from Brandeis University and was accepted into the prestigious Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. But after skipping a class to audition for Les Miserables, he was convinced that the bright lights of Broadway were more far more dazzling than the smile makeovers he could learn in dental school. Since then he has appeared on Broadway and in national tours of Mamma Mia!, Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Show, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Les Miserables, and Tommy (for which he was nominated as Best Actor in a Musical. He also appeared in Oklahoma! (5th Avenue, Seattle), Next To Normal (Seven Angels Theater), Guys & Dolls (The Ordway Theater, Minneapolis), Company (5th Avenue, Seattle), Man of La Mancha (Cleveland Playhouse), Sweet Charity (West Virginia Public), Jesus Christ Superstar (North Carolina Theater and Kansas City Starlight), Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (North Shore Music Theater, Boston), and Evita (Music Theater of CT).
Since becoming the Artistic Director of The Ridgefield Playhouse Broadway & Cabaret Series, he has brought high octane Broadway performers including Joel Gray, Betty Buckley, and Stephen Schwartz to Ridgefield. He is also Artistic Director and co-founder of ACT of CT (A Contemporary Theater of CT), which is expected to open in Ridgefield in 2018.
Levine previously created the sold-out Broadway Backstage and Born to Dance, which featured several Broadway stars singing and dancing in the shows that escalated their careers. Dancin' Broadway "is a true celebration of Broadway dance. It really does take the audience through an incredible journey of dance and choreography (from Broadway) through the decades. From early musicals like Oklahoma! and Carousel, to West Side Story and Chicago to Hello Dolly and Guys and Dolls -- all the way up to today's current hit Broadway musicals like Hamilton, Hairspray and Mamma Mia! Audiences just love it! But Dancin' Broadway isn't just a performance of favorites from The Big White Way. There is a shorter kid-friendly version as well as a two-hour performance for adultS. Levine wanted a "special performance" that is specifically geared towards kids who have already been exposed to theatre and dance.
"The show took about a year to create," he says. "I first had to really figure out the story that I wanted to tell. This is not just a Broadway dance revue showcasing various dance numbers. Instead, I want the audience to understand (and see) how choreography has evolved through the years. And because there's this fantastic video element that runs through the show, I had to figure out which Broadway stars would be right to tell the story. I was really lucky to get many of Broadway's finest dancers and choreographers onboard with this project. If you come to the show, you're going to see today's 'celebrity choreographers' talk about their work and inspiration and their process in creating Broadway musicals.
"My choreographer (Mark Myars) and I then worked with dancers for several weeks in a studio in New York City and begin to fine-tune the show and determined which numbers work best. And then we started our formal rehearsals and the show came alive. We also have three fantastic singers in the show singing some of Broadway's legendary numbers along with a fantastic band lead by Bryan Perri (the conductor of Broadway's Wicked)."
Levine adds, "Essentially, the 'kids' version' has the same dance numbers as the regular full-length version. What is different about the kids' version is the video element that runs throughout the show. In the kids' version, much of the 'celebrity choreographer' interviews and footage [are] not shown. However, all of the dancing and singing remains the same." Both shows ae multimedia, but the evening production has more footage and interviews. Who is going to appear live and in the videos and how did he select them, besides based on their availability? "As mentioned, the cast consists of six of Broadway's finest dancers. In addition, we have three Broadway singers along with the band. And in the video portion of the evening, we feature about 10 Broadway choreographers and directors. I chose people that I knew were experts in the specific styles and choreographers that were featuring throughout the evening. People like Anne Reinking, Karen Ziemba, Rob Ashford, Rachelle Rak ... all make appearances. I also wanted to include those choreographers who currently have Broadway shows running. People like Andy Blankenbuhler (Hamilton), Warren Carlyle (Hello Dolly), to name a few.
The surprising thing is that Levine doesn't consider himself hoofer. When he moved to New York in the mid-90s, he was cast in his first Broadway show, Les Miserables. I'm not a dancer at all," he says. "I'm a singer and actor. But I have always been fascinated by dancers. I call dancers the 'unsung heroes' of Broadway because it takes enormous discipline and work for what is a highly competitive and intense career. A career that can be plagued with injury and, just like [for] any other professional athlete, limited in the number of years. They are true athletes. And I've always been in awe of them....during a show, if I'm not on stage performing, you can find me in the wings watching the dancers in amazement. It's a skill that I am constantly amazed by and there are not many shows around that celebrate the choreographer and dancer. That is what inspired me to create Dancin' Broadway.
"The show is really a fantastic show for anyone that loves Broadway or theater," he says. "And if you're not "well-versed" in Broadway shows, but love dance, then it's also perfect show for you because of all of the different styles of dance that we showcase throughout the evening. Audiences are going to see how many of the great musicals were created and [will] hear and see (live onstage) many of the great Broadway musical numbers re-created. It's truly non-stop, high energy dance that will blow you away.
Dancin' Broadway runs on February 25 at the Ridgefield Playhouse, located at 80 East Ridgefield Road in Ridgefield. (If you are using a GPS, use the address 76 East Ridge Road. Turn uphill onto Governor Street and take a left into the parking lot.) Call 203-438-5795 or visit www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org.