Belting It Out
Broadway comes to the Ridgefield Playhouse
Ridgefield Playhouse artistic advisor Daniel C. Levine has organized an impressive lineup of Broadway-style shows over the next six months.
Photos by Douglas Foulke
The stage is set as the Ridgefield Playhouse prepares to raise the curtain on a new Broadway and Cabaret Series this January, one designed to bring high-profile Tony Award–winning performers to the Playhouse stage. Artistic advisor Daniel C. Levine, no stranger to Broadway, has expanded an already impressive Playhouse lineup by luring such notables as Joel Grey, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Safier, and Betty Buckley.
Levine, who got his own first big break while he was in his second year of dental school at Tufts University, has an impressive theater résumé of his own. The Boston-bred pre-med major left dental school when he was cast as Marius for the Broadway production of Les Misérable. He has appeared on Broadway and in Broadway National Tours of numerous other shows, including Little Shop of Horrors, Mamma Mia!, Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Chicago. He is the creator, producer, and director of Broadway Backstage! and Born to Dance!—currently touring throughout the U.S. And because he never wanted to be a “poor actor,” he runs an educational-tutoring business in Manhattan.
Levine kicks off the new series with a star-studded production of The Who’s Tommy, A Concert, which will be the first of its kind at the Playhouse. Levine calls it “the first concert version of a full Broadway musical” and if successful, he plans to do more. Bryan Perri, conductor of Wicked, will be musical director for the show. A local actor has been cast as the young Tommy, and Levine is particularly excited to give him an opportunity to work with these A-level professionals.
“The Playhouse has a sophisticated audience with high expectations,” says Levine. “It is already well known for rock-and-roll stars, comedians, movies, and lectures. My goal is to grow it with more theatrical performances.”
Levine tested the community appetite with his 2011 production of Broadway Backstage, organized in conjunction with Ridgefield Magazine. He brought in six Broadway stars to tell their stories and talk about what goes on backstage, like what happens when the chandelier doesn’t drop in Phantom of the Opera, or what do you do when an actor goes blank during a long soliloquy. They then performed their songs. Following that success, Levine brought another sold-out performance of his show Born to Dance, a history of Broadway dance followed by two hours of high-energy performances.
What he learned is that there is a “thirst for fantastic theatrical talent” here, which led to the creation of the new Broadway and Cabaret Series.
Headliners will include Joel Grey on February 19, 2016. Grey, best known for portraying the master of ceremonies in both the stage and film versions of the Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret, is a winner of the Academy Award, Tony Award, and the Golden Globe Award. He will discuss his life, his career, and will perform. Ridgefielder Stephen Schwartz, whose four-decade career includes the writing of such musicals as Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked, will share his story on April 2, 2016. He will bring along two of Broadway’s premier performers to sing from his scores. Alan Safier, star of the hit show Say Goodnight Gracie, will offer an uplifting, fun-filled evening on April 29, 2016. Betty Buckley, often called the Voice of Broadway and well known for her hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Memory” from Cats, will perform on May 7, 2016.
For Levine, this impressive lineup is only the beginning of the grand vision he has to make Ridgefield a theater destination, not just “a stop along the way.” He also hopes to open a small professional theater in the not-so-distant future with top-level talent that can perform limited-run shows. Right now, Ridgefield has no venue for that.
“Ridgefield is this secret little town and I think, how did I not know about this place?” says Levine, who happened on the town while visiting his brother in Redding. “It feels like I’ve always belonged here, which is another reason I want to help the Playhouse continue its success. I want to elevate the status, and I want to open up our own professional theater.”