Levi Kreis in “Hadestown”, playing Hermes and Greek mythology
Levi Kreis was a born performer, a singer-songwriter touring for audiences from the age of 12 and landing a full scholarship to study piano at Vanderbilt University as a student. in the second year of high school. But he never considered an acting career. “It never crossed my mind,” Kreis, who was born and raised in Oliver Springs, Tenn., admits. Everything changed when he crashed on a friend’s couch in Los Angeles and came across an open call for the nationwide tour of “Rent.” Without a photo or resume, he joined the long line at the cattle call, sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” for his audition and quickly landed the lead role of Roger in the musical. iconic.
Admitting it was “crazy,” Kreis didn’t take it for granted. After the tour, he began studying at Warner Loughlin Studios and pursuing his acting career while balancing a successful career as a singer-songwriter. He won the 2010 Tony Award for his Broadway debut as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” – a performance that allowed him to not only play, but seemingly channel, the legendary singer.
Now, Kreis finds himself testing his stamina with another energetic, full-throttle role as Hermes on the nationwide tour of “Hadestown,” now in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater until May 29. The Tony-winning musical features music, lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell, and combines characters from Greek mythology – including Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades and Persephone – with an updated style that incorporates musical styles ranging from jazz to folk. Hermes serves as procedural narrator, and Broadway veteran André De Shields won his first Tony Award for playing the role. Portrayed by Kreis, Hermes is both storyteller and host of the proceedings, acknowledging that even though it’s a sad story, he wants everyone to have a good time.
Is this your first time back on a show since the COVID pandemic shut everything down?
It does, apart from a few unique pieces from my own performances. It’s such a journey, not just for those of us on stage, obviously, but for every human being in the audience. We’re now about six months into the tour, but every city we go to, you feel such a palpable, shared celebration. The theater is back. It’s like I’ve never experienced anything, a real joy, like we all realize how grateful we are for the arts.
When did you first see “Hadestown”? Was it on Broadway?
It was. And I found André De Shields magnificent. I loved the music immediately, I responded to it right away. It was about a month before the world stopped.
Maybe it was way out of your mind while you were watching it, but I know a lot of actors who see something and they know right away they want to play it.
I was the same. I’ve always said if I had been aware of it earlier, or if they had been aware of me, or if there had been an opportunity at an earlier stage, I feel like it’s okay like a glove. And the creative team has been so wonderful in encouraging us to find our own footprint, our own voice.
After winning the Tony Award for playing Jerry Lee Lewis on Broadway, did you ever contact any of the people who went on to play that role?
I did it. And if people reached out to me, I would always be receptive. And I had a great chat with Andre on entering. It’s really interesting to be on this side of the equation. And that makes me think sometimes, I’m sure there were a lot of people in my place who were coming back after my Tony Award-winning role and recreating it for the tour, and making comparisons and navigating that journey.
I think every actor is responsible for bringing their own life, their own imprint, their own voice to a character. I think if you really do that, you’ll find that every character will look different when another actor puts it on.
What spoke to you in the role and in the series?
Immediately, the music, of course. It’s so much in my DNA. But also, I like that Hermès has a very tangible message. And it is a spiritual message. It is his message that says: Our thoughts, our feelings and our beliefs create a reality. And we’re destined to repeat the same loop over and over again until we start tackling that – as Hermes says – “between your ears, behind your eyes”. They do not hide this message, it is in full view. I think that’s the thing I like to talk about, because I don’t think it’s talked about enough. That’s what I love the most, because that’s sort of the path that I’ve found for myself personally.
Have you read any of the think pieces that say Hermes might be an unreliable narrator on the show?
I have and enjoyed this. Because there are real liberties Hermes takes in his storytelling, that’s not exactly what happened in the Greek myth.
I don’t know if I should trust him or not, and that’s part of the fun.
That’s great, I want you to feel like that!
You’re on tour for a few more months, but do you know what your next project will be?
I’m writing my own musical. I look forward to evolving in there for the next five years, maybe. I work with a wonderful book author, Randy Redd, and I write the music. We are in our third workshop and we are very excited. It’s a really strong and powerful show, and I hope it will be the role of a lifetime for me.
For more information on the national tour of “Hadestown”, which continues in 2023, visit hadestown.com/tour.