It’s the most wonderful time of the year! What is your favorite holiday season tradition?
We start Christmas early in our house. I’m usually on the road, so our tree goes up a couple of weeks after Halloween. Way too early for most people, but it gives us time to enjoy the holidays during our brief days home. I also must acknowledge the long standing family tradition of kicking off the decorating with Brenda Lee’s Christmas album. As a one-time president of the Brenda Lee fan club, my mom would play it. Incessantly.
Pre-show rituals or superstitions?
I have a routine for sure. Not to be too serious, but since I was a kid performing, my ritual is a prayer of surrender. Whatever our expertise, we give more when we get out of the way and let something greater than ourselves flow through us. To me, performing is like being a channel for something other than me. So, that ritual prayer reminds me that it’s not about me, but about what a higher power desires to do through me. Good idea for all of us to ponder.
You were born and raised in Oliver Springs, TN, but you’ve traveled a lot! What is your favorite place that you’ve visited or lived?
I swear to heaven I’m not just saying this. East Tennessee is life to me. My favorite place on earth. My favorite people on earth. And there is no way to convey this to the depth that I feel it. This place is my roots, my values, my peace.
Favorite comfort food? Guilty pleasure food?
I guess considering that I just ate a whole bag of them without breathing, the Brussels mints cookies by Pepperidge Farm.
What is your favorite song to perform live?
Likely, my original song called “Let It Go”. I’ve received some remarkable emails about people going through some really hard times and that song helped them through. I live in two worlds really. As a Broadway actor, a certain crowd expects to see easily digestible, glossy entertainment. As a singer/songwriter, a certain crowd wants you to bare your soul through excellent song craft. Ultimately, it’s the healing I strive to provide through my original music that satisfies me the most. When I see that an audience is willing to take that ride, and not all audiences are, it’s very exciting to me. It places me in my forte – healing through music.
As an artist, you’ve done TV, Stage, Concerts, Recordings. Do you have a favorite genre?
I actually love film most and this year was very exciting having my most recent film the #1 Speciality Box Office draw in various cities throughout the country. Currently, acting in general, whether it be on set or on stage, brings me the most joy.
You are also a songwriter/composer. What is your ideal “writing recipe”? Do you jot down ideas as they hit you and then put them to music later? Or does the music come first?
Music first for me. Always. Then building the chorus so I know where my “landing place” is. Then I craft to support that. My success as an independent recording artist has come from my TV licenses – you know, the singer crooning the love song behind that last scene of your favorite tv show. So, I also try to write cinematically, keeping storylines in mind.
Top 3 guilty pleasure songs on your playlist right now?
Keith Urban feat. Carrie Underwood – “Fighter”. Kane Brown – “Hometown”. Smokey Norful – “I Need You Now” (This gets a play or two from me minutes before I ever go on stage. Gorgeous song).
Who would you say are your biggest musical and overall artistic influences?
With most music today being more about marketing than art, I feel like great art still resides with our musical legends. I always go back to the greats. Luther Vandross. Anita Baker. Joni Mitchell. George Strait. The Eurythmics (Annie Lennox is insanely creative). I tend to go back four to six decades and learn from the greats.
What came first for you? Acting or music?
Music came first for me. Music and composing was something I came out of the womb doing. It was my version of journal writing. I just had to. But later, discovering my gift of acting by going to a cattle call for the national tour of Rent…and booking the role of Roger…that started a special love affair with developing characters. I immediately started studying with a very prominent tv/film acting coach in Los Angeles with a classroom full of actors who are names I’m sure you would recognize. Music is such an overwhelmingly difficult life. It’s 20% music and 80% marketing. But acting – you get hired and you do the job. You get to be completely absorbed in making excellent work. I also really love teaching acting now. I started doing master classes for musical theater students in universities a few years ago. I adore it. I was surprised to discover that, frankly, I’m very good at teaching acting. Very effective and nurturing. I’m good at creating a safe space where actors of all levels can discover their most honest performance. It’s something I would like to do here in East Tennessee to some capacity.
You won the Tony Award for playing Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway. What is your favorite memory of that night?
Ha! So much. One of them? That Kristen Chenoweth pronounced my last name correctly. 🙂
What’s a hidden talent you have that isn’t in the spotlight? I always thought that if acting and music had not demanded my life’s dedication, I would want to be a personal trainer. I love fitness and I love learning about it. I’m no authority on much outside of acting and music, but I’ve always had an abiding interest and discipline when it comes to fitness. I admire those who help others live a healthier, more vital lifestyle.
Thanks for having me again this year. I absolutely love being home and working with the Oak Ridge Playhouse. xo
Levi will be presenting his 3rd Annual “Home For The Holidays” concert at the Playhouse Friday and Saturday, December 15 and 16. Get your tickets for a night of of holiday classics and good Southern storytelling. BUY HERE.