Call Answered: Daniel C. Levine: ACT of Connecticut, "Mamma Mia!", "Evita"
I was first introduced to ACT of Connecticut this past June when my friend Sheri Sanders & new friend Craig Ramsay co-starred in ACT of Connecticut's mounting of Mamma Mia!. I was so impressed with their state-of-the-art theatre, high quality production value, and of course stellar cast, I just knew I had to eventually do an interview with ACT of Connecticut's Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine.
Now was the perfect time to interview Daniel as he & ACT of Connecticut are gearing up for their second production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's seven-time Tony Award winning musical Evita!.
I loved hearing how Daniel built this theatre from the ground up and the exciting plans he has for its future! Not only did I have the time of my life at Mamma Mia!, but I had it again interviewing Daniel and am so excited to stand atop the Casa Rosada this fall to see their freshly innovative production of Evita!
Evita will run from October 4-28. Click here for tickets!
For more on Daniel visit https://danielclevineproductions.com!
1. What made you want to build ACT of Connecticut? And how long did it take for this vision to come together from idea to inception? About six years ago, I became artistic advisor at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the Broadway & Cabaret Series (Ridgefield, CT’s performing arts center). That series became so popular that I realized that there was a strong desire in the community for fantastic Broadway-caliber talent. I began to explore the idea of opening an Equity theatre in town with my business partner (Katie Diamond) - as we didn't have one in our community. We began fantasizing what this Equity theatre could possibly look like; what types of shows would we produce, who would we want to work with, what interesting programming could we set up, etc etc. And from that, ACT of CT was born! We were then introduced to Ridgefield’s first selectman, Rudy Marconi, and we explained what we were hoping to do.
Rudy is a huge supporter of the arts and very interested in helping to elevate the level of entertainment in the town, and he understood that the addition of an Equity theatre could help put Ridgefield "on the map" as it pertains to professional theatre. He told us about a property in town (the Schlumberger property) and brought us over to have a look at it. After a lot of town meetings, town votes, etc., we were given a lease to the auditorium. It was then our responsibility to raise a lot of money to completely renovate the building (in order to make it a fully functional and state-of-the-art theatre). We put together an incredible board of directors, hired the best architects and construction team, and consulted with the best "theatre minds" currently working on Broadway today, and we went full steam ahead. One year later, and after a close to 2 million dollar renovation, we opened with Mamma Mia!
2. What has been the best part thus far of being Artistic Director? What is the most challenging part? Being Artistic Director of a brand new Equity theatre is really exciting. It is thrilling to be able to “shape” the company from the get-go; not replacing an existing Artistic director, but rather being the first. I’m able to truly bring my “creative vision” center stage (pardon the pun). I’m able to put my stamp on our brand. But the best thing is being able to hire creative teams and cast actors. There were many times throughout my career as a Broadway actor that I would say (to myself), “I really hope I get to work with this person again”, or “one day I’d love to work with this director” (and so on). Now, I am in a position to make this happen. I love giving opportunities to talented people who have worked really hard.
The most challenging part I would say is the workload. Someone said to me (the other day), “now that Mamma Mia! is over and Evita doesn’t start until September - you have a month off, right?”. Not so. There actually are not enough hours in the day to finish everything that I need to finish. I end up working (sometimes) til 2am. But honestly (and don’t tell my business partner Katie this), I love it.
3. This is your inaugural year, which started off with a sold-out run of Mamma Mia! Does that make you feel pressured that every show after has to sell out? Yes, Mamma Mia! was a huge success for us. A huge success. Because I directed Mamma Mia!, and because I am also directing Evita - I can’t really think about “are we going to sell out?! We have to sell out!!!” - I don’t think that would be a very good place to "come from" when directing the show. Instead, I am thinking about making the best possible Mamma Mia! or the best possible Evita. I am confident that, if we just "do the work,” plan our pre production precisely, cast the best possible talent, and create a wonderful environment for our rehearsal period - the rest will fall in line. That is what I did for Mamma Mia! and it worked. We are very lucky to live in such a theatre friendly town (Ridgefield, CT) with audiences that WANT US to succeed. Also, as Artistic Director I am not going to let anything on our stage that is just mediocre. People that know me and have worked with me know that. And because of that, I am confident that the audiences will come. I am sure that, once I am NOT directing every show here, I’ll be much more concerned with selling out the theatre. But when I'm directing the shows, I’m not sure that is the healthiest thought to have when starting a rehearsal period.
4. What was it like when you saw your first show of your premiere season was so popular? I was really happy about it. Mostly, I was really happy and proud of my cast. They were so good, and they deserved the sold out houses, the standing ovations, and the incredible reviews.
5. What made you want to kick things off with Mamma Mia!? Of course, we wanted to start with a big, flashy, upbeat, popular show — and what could be better than Mamma Mia!, a show that I have been a part of for many, many years. I was part of the original company before it came to Broadway, and performed in the musical for nearly three years. Performing in the show (20 years ago) was like being a rock a star; audiences going NUTS at the end of every performance! I knew that it would be a home-run for ACT’s first production. And also a perfect fit for our venue.
6. The next show coming up, this October, is the seven-time Tony Award winning musical Evita. How did you decide this was going to be your next production? It’s one of my favorite shows and has been since I was very young. I love Evita. Everything about it. I got to play "Che" a few years ago and fell in love with it all over again. I want our audiences to feel what I felt when I first saw it. I have some very cool ideas for this production and can’t wait to start rehearsals in a few weeks! And this cast is off the charts!
7. With so many productions of Evita performed over the years, what will make this mounting one to come see? First off, our theatre is the perfect theatre for Evita. It is going to feel intimate and personal and audiences are going to feel "a part of the story" (rather than simply watching the story). We have a fully automated stage (turntable) at ACT of CT and we are utilizing this throughout this production. It’s going to look gorgeous. I think that audiences (that may already be familiar with Evita) will feel as though this is a brand new Evita. I’m also super excited about our choreographer…the amazing Charlie Sutton. He has some awesome things planned.
8. The big number in this show is "Don't Cry For Me Argentina." When have you felt like Eva Perón standing on top of the Casa Rosada? Pretty much everyday of my life. Just ask my husband. :)
9. Your husband, Bryan Perri, is the resident Musical Director (in addition to being the music director and conductor of Broadway's Wicked). When you first met, did you have an “I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You” moment, or was it more of an "Eva & Magaldi" situation? Ha! For me, it was an “I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You” moment. For him it was DEFINITELY more of an "Eva & Magaldi” situation. And I can’t wait for him to read this. He’s going to kill me.
10. What can you tell us about the rest of the upcoming season and next season? In October (as mentioned), we will be presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. In February, we will be presenting Steven Schwartz’s Working. To honor Stephen for taking on an advisory role here at ACT of CT, we have created a series called Presenting Stephen Schwartz!, in which one of our three musicals (for the first three seasons) will be a dedicated Stephen Schwartz musical. I’m very excited about Working as is Stephen. Then in May, we will be producing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - THE funniest (and sweetest) show to hit Broadway in my opinion. We will also have a fairly extensive new works series, where composers and writers will come to our theatre to showcase their new works. Who knows, maybe the next big Broadway hit will have started right here in Ridgefield, CT! All in all, it’s going to be a fantastic year.
More on Daniel:
Daniel C. Levine is thrilled to serve as Artistic Director of ACT of CT. He is proud that Ridgefield has become a true arts destination. Daniel has appeared on Broadway and in the Broadway National Tours of: MAMMA MIA!, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Tony Nomination For Best Revival), CHICAGO, LES MISERABLES, and TOMMY. Daniel was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical –League of American Theaters and Producers, for his role as "Cousin Kevin" in THE WHO’S TOMMY. He also originated the role of "Mary Sunshine" in the Broadway National tour of CHICAGO. Daniel has worked extensively across the country and has been seen in: OKLAHOMA! (5th Avenue,Seattle), NEXT TO NORMAL (Seven Angels Theater), GUYS & DOLLS (The Ordway Theater, Minneapolis), COMPANY (5th Avenue,Seattle), MAN OF LA MANCHA (Cleveland Playhouse), SWEET CHARITY (West Virginia Public), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (North Carolina Theater and Kansas City Starlight), JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (North Shore Music Theater, Boston), and EVITA (Music Theater of CT). Daniel is the creator, producer, and director of BROADWAY BACKSTAGE! and DANCIN’ BROADWAY – currently touring throughout the U.S. His new show, AMERICAN DANCE SPECTACULAR! opened in the Fall of 2017. Daniel is the creator and director of BORN TO DANCE – a show performed throughout the fleet of ships on Princess Cruise Lines, in collaboration with Stephen Schwartz. Daniel also serves as Artistic Advisor for The Ridgefield Playhouse Broadway & Cabaret Series in Ridgefield, CT and has directed TOMMY, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at The Playhouse. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Big Apple Tutoring, LLC – one of Manhattan’s largest academic educational firms. Daniel is a commissioner for Ridgefield’s Conservation Commission, where he plays an active role in maintaining Ridgefield’s Open Spaces. He graduated Brandeis University and attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Daniel, along with his husband Bryan Perri (ACT resident music supervisor) and Katie Diamond (ACT Executive Director) could not be more proud of the ACT of CT team. Our inaugural production of MAMMA MIA! (which Daniel directed) was a smash hit!