BWW Interview: Daniel C. Levine Talks About The Ridgefield Playhouse and Bringing Broadway to CT
Daniel C. Levine has taken his Broadway background and is helping bring Broadway to Ridgefield, CT.
Levine is currently the Artistic Director of The Ridgefield Playhouse Broadway & Cabaret Series and is looking to bring Broadway to this Connecticut community.
Check out the interview below.
Can you tell us a little bit about The Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut?
Absolutely. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a FANTASTIC venue that is mostly well-known for rock bands and comedians, things like that. It's very, very well known in that circuit and it's like a "tour stop" for very well known artists to perform at. It's great and that's what it's known for. The Executive Director is Allison Stockel and she's really put the place on the map. I mean, truly people want to perform there. It's become a destination spot for new fantastic groups.
So you are the Artistic Director of The Ridgefield Playhouse Broadway & Cabaret Series? How did that come about?
When I moved to Connecticut about three years ago... first of all, I'm a Broadway veteran. I've appeared in many Broadway shows and so they brought me on board to create this new series called the "Broadway & Cabaret Series." They wanted me to sort of head it up and act as Artistic Director for this specific series. The goal was to make the Ridgefield Playhouse also a destination stop or a fantastic venue for Broadway talent.
So, we started that two years ago with a couple of great shows that did really well. One was called "Broadway Backstage" and another one called "Born to Dance." One featured six Broadway stars singing from the shows that made them famous and the other one featured six Broadway dancer dancing from the shows that made them famous. It was really cool and it sold out quickly. So, what we learned was that there is a Broadway audience and we can expand to that. The Ridgefield Playhouse doesn't solely have to be rock n' roll bands, comedians or lectures - it can be a destination for Broadway stars. As the success of the Broadway series has continued we said, 'Okay, now that we know that we have an audience here, let's really open it up to fantastic Broadway stars.' And that's what we've done. We want our community to know that The Ridgefield Playhouse has this other "Broadway aspect" and we want to get the word out there for this series.
Let's talk about the exciting things you guys have going on this year.
This year as part of the series, we have several amazing shows. We have Joel Grey coming!! He won the Academy Award and Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in Cabaret, he's a Broadway legends, Broadway icon and really one of the most recognizable faces in NYC. He's going to be doing a one-on-one Inside the Actors Studio type of interview, and he'll also be singing from the shows that he made famous. So, he'll probably sing something from Cabaret, something from Wicked. It'll be really cool because he usually doesn't do concerts like this, he does a lot of sit down talks and of course he's still very active in theater, but he hasn't really done anything like this in Connecticut. We're super excited about that and that's on February 19, 2016.
We're doing a show with Stephen Schwartz, who wrote Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. We are doing a big evening with Stephen Schwartz again - discussing his life and career and his contributions to the American Musical Theatre and what's exciting about this is that he's also bringing a couple of cast members from Broadway's Wicked to sing from the shows that he's discussing. What many people don't know is that Stephen actually lives in Ridgefield and he's a big supporter of the Playhouse, he's actually on the board. We are super, super excited to have him speak and have some cast members from Wicked perform the songs that he's talking about. That's on April 2, 2016.
We also have Betty Buckley on May 7, 2016. She appeared in Cats, Sunset Boulevard and 1776. She's called the "voice of Broadway". She gives a killer, killer concert, which she did in Boston last year and the Boston Globe gave it one of the best reviews for a cabaret show. She hasn't performed in Connecticut in many years, so it's sort of a rare treat for us and we are totally psyched about that.
Do you have something coming up that you are most excited about?
Yeah! So this is a first for The Ridgefield Playhouse because they've never presented a "Broadway style show." What we usually do are the shows like (as discussed) Stephen Schwartz and Joel Grey - we bring in already established performers and acts. In this case, we're doing a big, Broadway concert of THE WHO'S TOMMY. The Who's Tommy was on Broadway in 1993 and won 5 Tony Awards and was considered the best rock opera ever written by The Who. What we are doing at The Playhouse, is we are getting 16 Broadway stars, some of which were in the original production of Tommy and in the Broadway National Tour to perform this show! There are going to be 9 Broadway musicians making up the band. It is a huge undertaking for The Playhouse. It's going to be a big, big live concert of the entire Broadway show, cover to cover. Like I said, with some of the original stars of Tommy! The show is on January 22, 2016.
The other cool part about it is what we've decided to do is that we are rehearsing in NYC and just coming to Ridgefield to do it, but as you know there is a little boy Tommy in the show and we've decided to cast that locally in Ridgefield. On November 22nd, The Playhouse is having auditions to cast young Tommy, as well as a small children's ensemble for the finale number. These kids will have chance to work with Broadway professionals. The young Tommy will have to come to NYC to work with the musical director Bryan Perri, who's the conductor of Wicked. It's going to be amazing. An unbelievable experience.
Do you know who's going to be in this production of The Who's Tommy yet?
Yeah! So, Michael Seelbach is our Tommy. He was Tommy in the Broadway National Tour. Matt Farnsworth was in the original production of Tommy and he'll be playing Captain Walker. Tricia Rapier will be playing Mrs. Walker, she was also in the Broadway National Tour. I'll be playing Cousin Kevin (and I was Kevin on the National Tour) and then Shayna Steele is the Acid Queen. Everybody on Broadway knows who Shayna is and her voice is unbelievable. She was in Jesus Christ Superstar with me and she was in the original production of Hairspray. That's some of the talent that we have- and then Bryan Perri (from Wicked) is the music director and conductor. We are so very excited and it's a one night only event and it's the first time that we are doing an entire Broadway show like that.
How did you decide to reach into the Ridgefield community for the role of Young Tommy? Was that something you were always planning on doing?
We are so excited about it. In Tommy there is always a young Tommy and sometimes a small, children's ensemble. We felt like this was a way to give this opportunity to young, local theatre kids. It's a relatively easy part even though he's the lead of the show. So we thought we could look at young actors, but why not give the opportunity to Ridgefield and the surrounding areas and open it up. If this opportunity came for me when I was young, I would've been ALL over it. I would've begged my parents to be involved. Growing up outside of Boston I didn't have many opportunities like this and so I feel like I'm "in charge now" and I want to give the opportunity to someone from the area and The Playhouse LOVED the idea. We announced this last week and we already have 48 kids signed up, which is awesome.
I grew up in Wilton, right near Ridgefield, and we are only an hour or so from NYC. Do you think that's helping you guys create this Broadway scene at The Ridgefield Playhouse?
We are creating a space where you don't have to travel to NYC - because Broadway can come right here to this community. People don't know that The Ridgefield Playhouse is also a Broadway venue, so we are trying to get the word out. Honestly you can't go to NYC and see Stephen Schwartz interviewed, you can go see his shows on stage, but this is an opportunity to see him or Joel Grey give a concert. These are all unique things. We are hoping that we can create a Broadway community here in our backyard and also we are hoping that NYC audiences will say, 'Oh my God, let's take a trip to Ridgefield and see these fantastic people that rarely appear!' It goes both ways really.
Daniel C. Levine is a Broadway veteran. He is known for Broadway & Broadway National Tours: Little Shop of Horrors (The Dentist), The Rocky Horror Show (Circle In The Square), Mamma Mia!, Jesus Christ Superstar (Tony Nom. For Best Revival), Chicago (Mary Sunshine), Les Miserables (Marius), Tommy (Cousin Kevin). Regional Credits: Oklahoma! (Ali Hakim), Next To Normal (Doctor Madden), Guys & Dolls (Nathan Detroit) Company (Paul), Man of La Mancha (Housekeeper), Sweet Charity (Oscar), Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Daniel serves as Artistic Advisor for the Broadway & Cabaret Series at The Ridgefield Playhouse here in CT.