Village Theatre musical actor wins a Tony

June 15, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Levi Kreis

“Million Dollar Quartet” actor Levi Kreis — who originated the high-energy, piano-thumping portrayal of rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre — has won a Tony Award for playing the role on Broadway.

Kreis picked up the statuette for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the Broadway account of a famous jam session. The based-on-a-true-story musical recounts Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Lewis collaborating at the Sun Records studio in Memphis in 1956.

“Million Dollar Quartet” debuted at the downtown Issaquah theater in September 2007. The production remains the most successful original musical in Village Theatre history. “Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway in April, and also continues a successful run in Chicago.

“I don’t think an outstanding performance can exist authentically without a team that is working as a whole and as a unit, in harmony, and I owe this to the best, most talented, supportive cast and crew that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with,” Kreis said from the Radio City Music Hall stage after he accepted the award during the June 13 ceremony.

Kreis, sporting a bolo tie and the trademark Lewis pompadour, accepted the statuette from Broadway starlet Kristin Chenoweth.

“Mom and Dad!” he yelled toward the audience. “Thanks for coming tonight! I’m glad you did.”

In addition to Oliver Springs, Tenn., native Kreis, the Broadway production includes performers from the Issaquah run: Seattle native Rob Lyons as Perkins, Lance Guest as Cash and bassist Corey Kaiser.

Village Theatre Executive Producer Robb Hunt credited Kreis and the other performers for playing instruments on stage — a surprise for a Broadway show.

“That, to me, is what puts the show over the top is that the boys are playing their own instruments,” he said.

Hunt traveled to New York City to attend the Radio City Music Hall ceremony.

The awards ceremony — hosted by “Will & Grace” actor Sean Hayes — featured the entire “Million Dollar Quartet” cast performing a medley of “Down by the Riverside,” “Party” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” The cast also performed “Blue Suede Shoes” as part of the show opener.

The show also received nominations for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, the award for the spoken storyline. “Memphis” bested “Million Dollar Quartet” in both categories.

5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle staged “Memphis” — a ’50s-era tale of a white DJ playing music by black artists — in early 2009. The show opened on Broadway in October.

Hunt said the honors show the role of Eastside and Seattle audiences in the development of Broadway productions. Village Theatre nurtures original musicals and 5th Avenue Theatre serves as a pre-Broadway stop.

“It’s saying we are a good market with a sophisticated, ticket-buying public that’s discerning and able to see if a show’s going to work,” Hunt said.

The award for “Million Dollar Quartet” comes a year after another musical developed at Village Theatre — the sharp-edged “Next to Normal” — picked up three Tonys. Issaquah native Brian Yorkey, a former Village Theatre associate artistic director, wrote the book and lyrics for the piece about a family strained by mental illness.

In April, “Next to Normal” received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The national “Next to Normal” tour reaches 5th Avenue Theatre in early 2011.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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