The diverse career path of Levi Kreis has taken this Southern boy from the Broadway stage, to movie sets and even to NBC’s The Apprentice.
On Saturday, August 19, it brings the singer-songwriter and actor to the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre where he will perform his latest show Levi Kreis: Broadway at the Keys.
The show, his first at the Renberg, will feature plenty of Broadway tunes from his most recent album of the same name, including Friend Like Me from Aladdin, Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd, Corner of the Sky from Pippin and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On from Million Dollar Quartet.
“I love to take the songs and weave them through this very unconventional journey I’ve had in musical theater,” Kreis tells Vanguard. “L.A. holds a special place for me because it’s where my experience in musical theater began.”
It was his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet that won Kreis the Tony Award in 2010 for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
“I understood the role–it was like breathing,” he says. “It was like doing my family reunion party tricks at 12, playing the music of Jerry Lee Lewis. It was the center of my wheelhouse.”
That Tony Award now sits on a bookshelf in the living room of Kreis’ Tennessee home. But there was a time he kept Broadway’s biggest prize hidden from view.
“For the first two years I hid it in the closet,” he admits. “I was very intimidated by the experience and worried about how I could ever live up to expectations. It took me awhile to stop and realize that I did earn this. It’s good to have it on display.”
Kreis was an unknown and had just arrived in Los Angeles from Tennessee when he went on a cattle call audition for a national tour of RENT. He was so inexperienced that he didn’t even have a headshot or resume with him. But he still ended up being cast in the role of Roger.
The prospect of returning to Los Angeles and performing at the Renberg for a largely LGBT crowd is especially appealing to the now 35 year old Kreis.
“It feels like I’m coming home to my core audience,” he says. “I spent 10 years of my life writing music as a form of musical activism. In it I’ve talked about conversion therapy, being gay bashed, domestic violence. My core commitment has always been to try and articulate my experience as an LGBT person through my music and original compositions. It’s important to come back and be with my people.”
The Renberg appearance is part of a tour that also takes Kreis to New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Everett, Washington, this month.
A Very Difficult Movie Role
In addition to his current tour, Kreis has a juicy role as an anti-equality Texas preacher in the new Del Shores film A Very Sordid Wedding, the sequel to the cult hit Sordid Lives. His movie character has decided that regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal, he will see to it that no gay couple gets married in his county.
For Kreis, it was a difficult role to shake off after filming had completed.
“I lived in a deeply religious environment growing up and went through six years of conversion therapy,” he shares. “This was going into the belly of the beast. I was stepping into the psychology of the men who taught me how to hate myself and it was not a pleasant experience. But I dared not step on set without fully embracing the character.”
Facing Music Industry Homophobia
After making a splash in RENT and landing roles in the films Frailty and Don’t Let Go, Kreis was courted by several major record labels and finally ended up signing with Atlantic Records in 2004.
This all occurred not long after Kreis had ended six years of anti-gay conversion therapy.
“I had come out of the closet then went right into the entertainment closet,” he remembers. “It was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I tried to keep it under wraps. But the record company found out I was gay and all of a sudden the conversations began to address that instead of the music. Things starred to fall apart and I left the record label.”
Kreis was not sure of his next move until fate intervened. A friend of his suggested he audition for an episode of NBC’s The Apprentice as part of a music industry-themed challenge between two teams
The teams were asked to audition promising artists and choose one to write an original song to perform live on the air for XM Satellite Radio executives. The team that chose Kreis won the challenge.
The Apprentice episode was shot six months before it aired. Mindful that it would give him invaluable exposure, a nearly broke Kreis convinced a recording studio to give him an hour of time for $200. In that 60 minutes, he recorded the eight tracks for his debut album.
“I had all these songs that Atlantic Records didn’t want to know about–songs about boys I dated, crushed on and ran away from,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I go full in to my own authenticity?’”
The album went on sale online the night his episode of The Apprentice aired in November 2005. That night he received 1,000 orders and his recording career was born.
He went on to release Bygones in 2007, Where I Belong in 2009, Live @ Joe’s Pub in 2011, Imagine Paradise in 2013 then the Broadway album this year.
Deeply Personal Album
Kreis recently finished recording his seventh album which he describes as the “strongest material I’ve ever written.” It’s an independent album that was funded by his fans through the Kickstarter crowd-funding platform.
“It’s a return to what has been my most successful album, my debut album One of the Ones, where I delved deeply into the experience of finding myself and finding love. Finding how to love. This picks up where my debut album left off. I’m in my mid 30s and learning all over again who I am and learning how to love. It’s a story of learning how to love post-divorce and learning how to love in sobriety.”
Kreis hopes to have the deeply-personal album out next year and to release the first single in March.
Tickets for the Renberg Theatre concert are $25 and can be purchased at lalgbtcenter.org/events.