DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Ghost Star Caissie Levy

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Caissie Levy
Caissie Levy

CAISSIE LEVY
Caissie Levy, who portrayed Sheila to thrilling effect in the Tony-winning revival of Hair, returns to Broadway later this month in Ghost The Musical, which begins previews March 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Levy, who possesses a stirring, wide-ranging, soaring belt, had the rare opportunity to create her role in the musical based on the award-winning 1990 film of the same name on the London stage last year opposite Richard Fleeshman, who will also re-create his performance for Broadway audiences. The supernatural romance casts Levy, who has also been seen on Broadway in Wicked, as Molly, the role created on screen by Demi Moore. Tony winner Matthew Warchus directs the new musical, which features a book by Bruce Joel Rubin, who adapted his Oscar-winning screenplay for the musical, and music and lyrics by Grammy Award winner Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard. Earlier this week I had the chance to chat with the gifted performer about her latest Broadway outing, which marks the first time the singing actress has created a role in a new musical; that interview follows.

Question: How did the London casting come about for you?
Levy: I actually auditioned for Ghost the day before we closed Hair in London. I met with Matthew [Warchus] while I was in Hair in New York and sort of chatted about this project, but I didn't really know that it was happening in the West End. I think it was just for a reading at that time. And then, they all came, I guess, to see the show—they came to see Hair in London—and I went in to have an audition, and I got the gig, so it was one of those really quick things.

Levy and Richard Fleeshman in the London production
photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Question: Was there any problem with Equity? I think things are easier now than they used to be…
Levy: Equity has been amazing. I'm Canadian, as well, so I've always dealt with these immigration issues, and they've always been really supportive, whether it's Canadian Equity, American Equity or British Equity. They arranged the exchange, and it was able to happen. I was so grateful for it.

Question: Had you been a fan of the film, and did you go back to the film?
Levy: Yeah, I've always been a fan of the film, actually, since the time I was a kid, and I didn't really go back to it because I didn't want to create an imitation of Demi Moore's performance. I knew that the script—the stage adaptation—was being done by Bruce Joel Rubin, [who penned the screenplay]. We've had him on board every day of rehearsals since day one in London, and he's back again throughout this whole process in New York. I knew that it was very faithful to the film, so I didn't feel the need to go back and do any research with the film because the words I was saying on stage every night are basically from the movie, but there are many departures as well. I thought it would be best to sort of leave it be. It's one of those movies that's so in everybody's minds. It's in the public consciousness so much that I didn't feel like I was missing anything if I didn't go back.

Question: What was the reaction to the show in London? How did audiences respond to it there?
Levy: The audiences were absolutely amazing. I found it really interesting, actually, that having been there with Hair and coming to London with the entire American cast after we were sort of the toast of the season, and people that came to the show to see Hair in London loved it, of course, but it was a tougher sell over there. And, London audiences don't really give standing ovations, as you probably know… It was tough to get them up on their feet at the end of Hair and what was so interesting was, when we were doing Ghost, people were leaping to their feet before the end of the show. It was amazing! I think because I had that experience with Hair in London, I appreciated it even more. I found it really interesting—I think it's because the story of Ghost appeals to everybody, and everybody can relate to it. It really moves people. I mean, the sobs that you hear during the show are almost hilarious. [Laughs.] It's amazing that people feel so moved. The audiences were wonderful to us… and I'm just excited for New York audiences and American audiences to see this show.

Levy in the London production
Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Question: How would you describe Molly?
Levy: Well, I think she's an incredibly strong woman. She's an independent person. She's an artist. She goes her own way. And, I think her love for Sam and her connection to Sam is a really interesting one because they're people from two different worlds that come together. He's this very-much over-achieving, Wall-Street jock, kind of, and her back-story is quite different than that. I think they just have this primal connection, and maybe she ended up with Sam as somebody that she never really thought she'd pick. But it happened. And, they have this connection that transcends in a very sexual and very raw and a very loving [way]. She's a tough cookie, but, obviously, she goes through it quite a bit in this story when she loses him. As an actor, that's what's so good about the role is I get to really explore a whole section of emotion with her and take her on this really great journey. She starts out very strong, very funny, very sort of free-spirited, and then her spirit gets broken with the loss—the sudden, tragic loss of her boyfriend. And, her world gets torn apart, and she has to go through all of the pain before she can hit the other side. I really like her. I think she's pretty great. [Laughs.]

Question: How would you describe the score?
Levy: The score. Oh! The score is fabulous. It's Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and Glen Ballard, who's written about every pop song you've ever heard! They're like rock legends, and it's crazy that we get to work with them. And, they're two of the most genius, generous guys I've ever met really. They've written this score that's a great hybrid of pop and musical theatre with a rock edge to it. These are two guys that know how to write a pop song better than anyone. These songs are really catchy, they're really emotive, they're really tuneful. I've got a lot of really wonderful ballads and sort of anthemic songs in the show. I get to sing some really great stuff, so I feel really lucky, and then the Oda May [character's] stuff is really bluesy and up-tempo and funky. What's great about it also is that the music is quite specific to the show, but also relatable outside of the show… For instance, my song "With You," which is sort of this big—I shouldn't say big, actually, it's a small moment on stage, but it's one moment in the show where things are very still and there isn't a lot happening, and I'm just singing about losing Sam. Kind of the first moment Molly's alone and processing this loss, and it's such a beautiful song, and it seems to be the song that people pluck out of the show and, you know, cover on YouTube. All the young kids are doing their own rendition of it, which is amazing! What's beautiful about it is that it's so perfectly placed in the show, and it makes so much sense right where it is, but if you do take it out of the context of the show, it's such a really great pop song—a really great song about losing someone, whether they died, whether you just broke up with them. That's what Glen and Dave are so brilliant at. I think the score is pretty fabulous.

Levy in Hair.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How do you find the score in terms of vocal demands compared to Wicked and Hair?
Levy: It's a huge sing. It's a huge sing, and very much like Elphaba, where every time I'm on stage, I'm rocking out. [Laughs.] And, it's amazing. I'm so fortunate to do it, but it's a big undertaking. Because I've been singing it for a year now, it's really in my body, and I've found moments where I get to lay into the songs and moments where I get to show my softer side and my folkier side. The show, itself, is quite demanding, vocally, in addition to the songs because we do a lot of screaming, a lot of crying. [Laughs.] Sounds like so much fun, doesn't it? But it's a big sing for myself and for Richard as well. Like I said, we've been living with the show for a while, so it's doable—definitely doable. I don't think I missed any shows for the first nine months of the run.

Question: Has much been changed for the New York production so far?
Levy: Yeah, things have been changing. We've been fine-tuning things quite a lot. This is our third tech process for the creative team and myself and Richard, who plays Sam, so we've gone through this process a couple times now already. I think there's always been sort of a short list of things to get to at the next process. Now that we've played the show in Manchester, we've played the show in London, and now we're bringing it to New York, and Ghost is preparing to open all over the world in a bunch of other cities, they've really taken the time now to focus certain scenic elements… Emotional moments in the show have been fine-tuned, a line or two has been changed here or there, some songs have been tightened, some things have been replaced, a couple of songs have been replaced, some characters have been tweaked. All for the better. I'm finding this process really exciting because I think the show is just becoming stronger and stronger, and that's what we want. When we open on Broadway, we want it to be the best version of Ghost that it can be.

Levy in the London production
Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Molly? Is there something you look forward to?
Levy: Yeah. Like I said before, I'm really fortunate in this role that I get to do so much great singing and also wonderful acting moments, but I think my favorite is singing "Nothing Stops Another Day." That's my second-act song where Molly is taking a turn, she's deciding to move through the grief and move forward and try to rejoin the world and remember who she was when she's packing up Sam's things, and she's saying, "Okay, no matter what I've been through, no matter how bad things can get, a new day is coming, and you can't stop that. You have to just move forward." It's a beautiful, anthemic, moving ballad. I love singing it, and I think it's a great moment for the character.

Question: Tell me a little bit about working with director Matthew Warchus.
Levy: He's brilliant, as I'm sure everyone else who's worked with him has told you. I like to think of him as the strong, silent type. And, I think that sums him up really well. [Laughs.] What's wonderful about him, as an actor, is that he doesn’t micro-manage his actors at all. I remember early in the process, in rehearsals in London, before we went to Manchester with the show, he barely gave any notes, which I find quite unnerving in general. But I came to understand that he was taking his time observing all of us and sort of feeling out what our instincts were and what our ideas were, and he really let us play and go to a bunch of different places before focusing the scene and saying, "Okay, here I need you to do this. Here I need you to do that" or "Why don't you try this?" It was very freeing to be in an environment like that… It's a hard process. Everybody works differently, and there's pros and cons to everything, but I really appreciated that Matthew gave us room to try things out. And, then when he does give a note, it means so much because you know that it's coming from a wealth of knowledge—he's thought about it, he's really weighed in all the options, and he's like, "This is best for the show, and this is best for the role in this moment." And, you go, "Yeah, I totally trust you and believe you." So we've all felt really supported that way, plus he has a brilliant mind, and he's a great conceptualist. He sees things in colors and in pictures, and he's quite knowledgeable in every realm of theatre, whether it's the music element or the scenic element or the acting. I'm a big fan. [Laughs.]

Levy and Richard Fleeshman in the London production
photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Question: What do you think the musical offers that maybe the film didn't? Why should people who know the film so well come to the musical? What do you think they'll get out of it?
Levy: That's a good question. I was just at the movies the other day, and I was completely swept away by the magic of being in a movie theatre. I was also at the theatre the other day. It's funny—as an audience member, I get so worried for the actors, whereas when I'm up on stage, I don't worry about that kind of thing. But I feel so much respect when I'm in the audience watching my friends do a show because I think, "Oh, my God! They're so brave. I can't believe they're doing this live right now. Oh, my Lord!" And, I worry for them. I think that's because live theatre is just such an amazing thing—all these people gather in one room and sit down and share this experience, and something happens once and then it's over. It's not repeatable. Even though you do the same show every day for a year, it's never the same, and it's so dependent on that interaction between the audience and the actors. That's why I think people should come see Ghost live because, first of all, it's not just the movie thrown up on stage… It's very much its own animal. I've actually compared it quite a lot to working on Hairspray because I think that's what Hairspray did so brilliantly as well. It was such a wonderful movie, and they took the grain and the core of that film, and they transformed it into something brand new and put that on stage. It was very much its own piece, and I feel very similarly about Ghost. I think people are going to know the movie, of course, love the movie and want to see all those moments in the film that they loved. But they're going to come to the theatre and see things happen live that blow their mind. The illusions— awesome. So cool! Paul Kieve, who worked on all the " Harry Potter" films, he's done all of the illusions for the show, and it's just mind-blowing what happens. I think there's just nothing like live theatre. You come and experience something as it's happening right in front of your eyes. It means more. I know, just from talking to the fans and people after the show who've seen it, that it hits home in a way that the film hasn't. And, I think that's because it's live, and because you're going on this journey with these actors in real time. I actually think that the musical goes a little bit deeper than the film did, just story-wise, because we've been able to fine-tune things and because Bruce has been part of the process the whole time and gone deeper with the characters than he did even in the screenplay. Yeah, I think it's going to mean a lot more live on stage.

Question: Did any of the film actors come to see the musical while it was in London? Did you get to meet any of the people that…
Levy: No, we didn't. We didn't. We would love Whoopi to come. We would love Demi Moore to come. It would be incredible. I'm sure the producers have their eye on inviting them, and hopefully they'll come see us.

Levy in Wicked.

Question: Tell me a bit about your co-star, who you worked with in London as well. What's it like sharing a stage with him?
Levy: Richard's wonderful. We shared this process now for almost… I guess it's been a year-and-a-half. We're incredibly close, and he's a wonderful talent. We're very lucky to have him in New York. I think he's going to do very well here on Broadway. I think people are going to love him. He's quite a well-known TV actor in the U.K. He's done some theatre, and he's a musician as well. He's definitely got the chops, and I think this role is so great for him because it's allowing him to show everybody what he can do. He's a great guy.

Question: When you were doing London, did you know that you were also going to do the show on Broadway or was that a separate audition process or negotiation?
Levy: It was always something that I knew the producers were aiming to do and that they knew I was aiming to do, so it was just one of those things that was, "Hopefully the show is a hit in London, and we can bring it to New York." The fact that it happened so quickly has just been incredible. I can't think of the last time a show on this scale and a brand-new musical, at that, has transferred within a year of opening in London.

Question: It is very fast.
Levy: Yeah, it's pretty wonderful that they pushed it to be here this season. I think that's the best decision they made because it's still a brand-new show. It's nice that New York is getting a show that is very much brand new, rather than a couple years old and then coming over. Question: This is really the first role that you created on Broadway in a new musical. What are the challenges of that and also what are the rewards? What does it mean to you?
Levy: It means so much to me. I've been reflecting a lot on my ten years here in New York. I've been so fortunate. I've worked my way up quite a bit, starting as Maureen in the non-equity tour of Rent and moving to Hairspray and Wicked as an understudy and then being promoted to the roles and doing multiple companies. I feel like it's been a natural progression. Getting Hair was huge for me, obviously, because even though it wasn't creating a role, it was reviving a role that hadn't been done in 40 years in New York, and it was such a brand-new production and such a refocused production. I did feel quite prepared going into Ghost in London. To sort of create this role, I felt like I was ready for it, and it was a challenge that I was up for, but it's something that I'm thankful for every day. And, especially, this kind of role where I get to do so much in this show, and use all these different sides of myself as an actor, whether it's vocal or emotive or physically. It's been a great challenge for me. You know, Broadway is home for me, and it feels so good to be home with this show after being in London for almost two years now. It was hard to be away from New York. I just feel so lucky and so happy to be back with this show.

[For tickets visit Ticketmaster.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.