BWW Interview: Caissie Levy Discusses Her London Concerts
Caissie Levy was last seen in London in 2012 when she originated the role of Molly in the West End production of Ghost at the Piccadilly Theatre, and went on to perform a two-night residency at the Hippodrome in 2013. She's since originated the role of Elsa in the Broadway production of Frozen.
On 15 September, she is back in the UK for one night only, performing at Cadogan Hall as part of Club 11 London's mission to bring Broadway to our capital.
It's been six years since London last saw you in concert. What does it mean to you, to be back performing in London?
It means so much. When I started out in this industry, with all my hopes and dreams, I never imagined that I would find a sense of home in London.
The fact that it's become such a meaningful place to me, and that audiences there want to hear from me, means the world. It's actually been the greatest surprise and joy of my career. I'm really looking forward to reconnecting with the fans and walking those streets again, remembering all the good times I had when I was living over there.
You will have gained a whole host of new fans since you last performed in London, so I suspect the audience will be a combination of your steadfast fans who supported you since the beginning, as well as people who've discovered you more recently!
Yes, it's exciting to think that there will be a bunch of people there who won't have seen Hair or Ghost, so it will be fun to revisit the set lists from those shows for the people who didn't see me in them.
Speaking of the set list, can we expect full-out musical theatre with some personal anecdotes...?
I would say that it will be 60% music and 40% stories from my life. I've lived a lot of life since I was last over there and I'm eager to share those stories. I'll perform some songs from my debut album but you'll also hear a lot of newer stuff, including the single I just put out from Hair - a mashup of "Aquarius" and "Good Morning Starshine". I'll also be doing some of my favourite rock and pop songs and talking about my musical tastes.
The whole thing will definitely have a theatre bent to it though, and I'll obviously be singing some song from Frozen. Our whole Frozen team is over there right now casting for the London premiere, so it's a really fun time to introduce some of these songs live to a London audience and get them excited! I've also got a special guest coming along, of course...
Yes! You have Tony and Drama Desk Award nominee Ashley Park featuring with you - how did that collaboration come about?
The magic of the internet! We've been mutual fans for a long time and she had read that I was going to London to do a concert. She mentioned it to me during a benefit we were singing at, and I said, wait a minute - why don't you hop over the channel [from Paris, where Ashley is currently filming a TV show] and sing with me? So we made it happen! It's going to be a really great way to introduce London to her, and her to London.
The internet is a wonderful thing! You're very active on social media and always vocal about importance causes that you feel passionately about. Given your profile, particularly within the theatre community, do you feel a responsibility to give a platform to these causes, or is your engagement driven more by a personal attachment to the issues?
I think that's a really interesting question, and I think that I fall somewhere in the middle. I do feel that I'm at a point in my life where I know who I am and what's important to me. I'm also aware that I have this platform to speak to people, and I can't just stand by when I feel something is wrong. I feel strongly about all of the madness in the US right now with the current administration, and that feeling of needing to speak out extends itself to any injustice that speaks to me personally.
The situation with Falsettos over in London at the moment is interesting, complicated, and heart-wrenching. [Referring to Adam Lenson's open letter criticising the production for the lack of Jewish representation during the creative process]
Because of my connection to the community in London, I wouldn't have felt like a human being if I hasn't spoken up. It's one of my favourite shows of all time, but any show featuring minorities needs representation, and the onus is on the creative team to address that.
You do have to be careful with social media though, and pick your battles, because sometimes it feels like screaming into the void. It's interesting because the Canadian in me doesn't want to speak out all the time - I think that's why I feel so connected to British culture, because there's a quietness and humbleness to the Brits and Canadians that Americans don't have. But America has changed me (well, maybe it's New York that's changed me!) and makes me want to use my voice more and more.
Falsettos is one of a number of hit American shows transferring here. On the flip side, Broadway is getting some excellent London productions, with SIX and Caroline, or Change, amongst others. Are there any upcoming transfers from London that are particularly exciting for you?
I am thrilled about Caroline, or Change, especially with Sharon [D. Clarke] in the cast. I was so thrilled to hear she had won the Olivier and that she was so loved for the role. When we worked together in Ghost, she took me under her wing and make me feel at home when I was completely alone and didn't know what on earth I was doing! I'm so excited that she will be in New York and that I get to go and fangirl over her!
Obviously, I'm really excited about Company as well - I'm a massive fan of Marianne Elliott and I have some friends who will be in that cast that haven't been announced yet, so I'm really pumped for them. British theatre is so fantastic and savvy, and I'm really excited that some of the things from the last couple of seasons over there are coming to Broadway.
No one can be more excited than London in anticipation of Frozen coming over in 2020! You originated the role of Elsa and have been doing it for about two and a half years - does it feels different now than it did in the beginning?
It does. It ebbs and flows. Now that we're in our second year of a Broadway run, we know what we're doing and aren't under the same type of pressure as before. When you're opening, you're dealing with the critics, the Tony campaigns, the early morning TV appearances...and the global attention in general. It was thrilling beyond belief, but a lot to have on our shoulders.
Different layers of the show are revealing themselves to us now, and having new cast members changes the dynamic and lights the fire in a new way, which has been really cool. Some days, one scene speaks to me in a way that it hadn't the previous year, so I feel like I'm able to go deeper with Elsa now and unpeel more of her layers.
We've only just changed our schedule too, so now we're doing double shows on a Saturday and a Sunday, with just Monday off - so that's a new battle to contend with! It's a big ask physically for the entire company. So, there's always something going on to keep things fresh.
That sounds intense! What surprised me about Frozen when I saw it in 2018 was how much depth there was to each character, and the additional music written for it really elevated that - "Monster" in particular feels like a "No Good Deed" moment. Do you enjoy singing the new material as much as the more recognised stuff?
When I heard "Monster", I thought "I HAVE to play this part". I knew it was such a special song, and it really is the "No Good Deed" moment. Right down to one bit of staging, where I said to Michael Grandage "We should just be careful here, because this is a little bit of a back-up that I did as Elphaba"!
Bobby and Kristen [Lopez] are so brilliant to be able to write new material that matches and elevates what they'd written previously. To me, "Monster" and "Dangerous to Dream" were written to give more information about Elsa and her human side, and we need that to give her more depth as a character.
With your extensive list of theatre credits, this isn't your first rodeo, but have you found that your experience working on Frozen has taught you anything new?
Well, this is my first time doing eight shows a week on Broadway as a mother, so that's been an education in itself. It's a "whole new ball of wax", to give you a Ghost reference! It's been amazing, wild, crazy, difficult and thrilling - and within it, I have learned a lot about the expectations I put on myself, and what my limits are.
Aside from that, I've relearned how to lead a company and how to be someone that people rely on. Some days I feel like I do a really good job, and some days I feel like I'm a mess - and a new chapter for me is learning how to accept that. The beauty of theatre is that I get to do it again if I do mess it up!
Performers like you are serious athletes, and it's incredible to witness how you can push through the pain and find strength and energy from the passion that you have for what you do.
There's that quote about remembering to be kind to people, because you don't know what battles they might be facing, and I think that's a good reminder. It's a wonder that anyone gets through the day sometimes, and I think it's so great that we are all talking more about our imperfections. Seeing other actors talking about these things has empowered me to talk about it. I can say how that one day I feel like a shitty mother because I wasn't there for my kid, and other days I feel like I'm smashing the mom game and sucking at work.
Hopefully, me being open about that will help young women coming up behind me in this business, who aren't yet mothers, to reassure them that no one really knows what they're doing! And that's really what Elsa is all about - it sounds cheesy, but I've definitely become a better person doing this role, because Elsa has to learn to accept herself, and that her flaws are the source of her power. I think we all need to hear that lesson!
In honour of your return, our final question to you is: what is your favourite thing about London?
My first instinct was to say Hampstead Heath because it's just magic. But I think (and this illustrates the perfect combination of who I am - a city girl and a Canadian country girl) I really just love the vibe in Covent Garden. Walking on those cobbled streets with a beautiful cup of coffee and taking in that quintessential London feeling. There's nothing quite like it.
Caissie Levy performs at Cadogan Hall on 15 September