On Caissie Levy’s first date with her husband, David Reiser, she spilled a beer on him at the now defunct speakeasy Chumley’s in the West Village. “I was so nervous!” she remembers now, ten years later. Reiser was a little soggy, but smitten. He still maintains that he let her win a ping pong game when they stopped at the nearby bar Fat Cat, just to get in good with the Hair, Ghost the Musical and Les Miz star. They had met offstage through mutual friends, so this all happened before either one knew how talented the other really was.
Reiser started off in the business as an actor. He appeared in the Beach Boys musical, Good Vibrations, on Broadway, but he was always busy writing songs at the same time. When Levy first heard his eclectic scores for his early musicals—like Static Electro—she fell even harder for the actor-turned-composer. In turn, Levy captivated Reiser when he first saw her perform as Elphaba in Wicked. Now, he credits his wife’s incredible vocal range with opening the possibilities of the type of music he can write for female characters. As their romantic relationship grew, they routinely combined their talents—along with those of their enviable cast of friends—through concerts of David’s work and wine-filled dinner parties where they sing and create.
Their biggest collaboration to date, however, has been their six-month-old son, Izaiah. We recently caught up with the new parents on Izaiah’s first trip to Vegas—“We’re breaking him in early!” jokes Levy—where his mom was singing backup for Rod Stewart.
How has your first six months as showbiz parents been?
Caissie Levy: It’s been wild. It’s been great.
David Reiser: Being a show business parent isn’t bad because you have a lot more flexibility around when you can be with your kid, but obviously it’s a shocking surprise to be getting up at what we consider to be the ass crack of dawn…
CL: Or just never going to sleep, which I do. But David said something to me early on about having a baby that kind of stuck. Our lives as actors and musicians are so erratic, and, strange as it is, every few months we get a job, and we go somewhere else and we do something crazy. So we’re used to change happening, and a kid coming into our lives has just been an extension of that.
Like, there wasn’t really a routine to upend?
DR: Right. Our relationship has always been about figuring out how to take the next step with the next job and the next place that we live, so having Izaiah now has felt pretty natural.
It’s funny that you mentioned how hard it is to get up early, because I just interviewed Celia Keenan-Bolger and she said it’s weird because she now has a full day as a mother before she even goes to rehearsal for the upcoming Broadway revival of The Cherry Orchard.
CL: My buddy Will Swenson and I would often compete about who was more tired, and he would always win because he had children. We did a lot of shows together, and before a matinee I’d say, “I’m so tired. I just don’t know if I have it in me,” and he’d be like, “Don’t even say that to me. I’ve already been to soccer practice and like two recitals.” Now I get it.
Did you text him and tell him you were now in the competition?
CL: I did! I was like, “I get the tired card now. I can finally be the winner.”
David, has having a child inspired you to write any songs? Do you guys sing to him?
DR: We constantly sing to him. We’ve been singing almost entirely ad-libbed songs. There are very few traditional songs we sing to him other than, “You are my Sunshine.”
CL: I used to sing that to him when he was in the womb because we had a bit of a crazy, high-risk pregnancy. Then when he was born we sang it to him when he was fussy, and he would calm down. It’s our magic song. Otherwise, we’re just singing ridiculous, silly-voiced songs to him. David’s very good at making up songs on the fly. I am not.
DR: It’s funny, once we had a kid I realized that much of my work has already been about parents and children. My show Jonie is about a daughter and a father, and Abey Baby is about a father and a son, so it’s just provided me a new insight into some of the topics that were already important to me. There’s certainly been less time to write, but it has provided a lot of inspiration for the next step.
David, when you write songs do you think of Caissie’s voice?
DR: It’s helpful and hurtful to think of Caissie Levy’s voice when you write a song, because it means that half the world can’t sing it no matter how hard they try. But yes, I do often think of Caissie when I’m writing certain songs. Caissie’s voice is so spectacular that it allows me to have free range when I’m writing, and that can be a problem sometimes because I can write things that are more difficult to sing then I should.
CL: David’s famous for writing really range-y songs, so I’m always like, “You could bring that down just a half a step, and you would make all the actors that sing this a lot happier.” It’s cool because David will be writing something and he’ll be like, “Come here for a sec. Will you sing this for me? Is this a good range for a woman’s voice?” or, “How does it feel?” so we collaborate that way. Singing his music is always a blast for me. I feel privileged that I get to hear it first and that I get to be the first voice he hears on it. Part of the reason I fell in love with him was his writing. He’s so talented, and you need to feel that way about each other—especially in this business—in order to last.
Is your end goal to combine your talents, with David writing a show that Caissie could star in?
CL: I don’t know that it’s an end goal, but it sure would be nice.
DR: In some ways that’s an exciting thought, and in other ways it’s sort of nice to keep business and personal separate. It’s nice to be able to work with each other, because it’s a joy, but it’s also nice to not have to worry about writing something for Caissie, because I know she works with a million other people and same thing for Caissie. She knows that other people love singing my music as well. We would love the opportunity if it came up, but it’s not something we aim for necessarily.
CL: I’m always looking for a cool role to play, and David’s always looking to write something that inspires him from a very organic place, so it’s not like he’s trying to write something for me, but I do always end up involved in some aspect of his latest incarnation, which is fun.
And some of your friends get involved, too, like your bestie, Kacie Sheik. Caissie, did you introduce your friends to David’s music or did you already share the same friends?
CL: It sort of happened naturally, because we’ve been together for so long. We’re going to be married for five years in October and together for ten, so a lot of our friends that end up singing David’s music have been around from the beginning.
DR: Yeah, and over time we’ve gotten to know each other’s work. I’ve gotten to see all of Caissie’s talented friends perform, and they eventually got to hear my music. It’s nice to collaborate with likeminded people, and as you get to know what these people’s strengths are you think, “This song is perfect for this person,” or “I would love to write a role for this person.”
CL: We used to have these hippie dinners where we’d invite friends over and make music and talk about ideas and drink a lot of wine. That parlayed into, “Hey, do you want to sing in this concert with David?” Or, “Hey, we should put out an album together,” so it’s always been an easy natural progression to collaborate with all of our friends in the business.
David, when was the first time you heard Caissie sing? What was it that you loved about her voice?
DR: It was probably when she went on for Elphaba in Wicked.
CL: Shortly after we started dating I was understudying Elphaba on Broadway, and I had a few scheduled shows about six months into my run, so David came to [one of those]. I think that was the first time you heard me solo.
DR: I was an actor for a long time, but when I went to see Caissie for the first time in Wicked, it reminded me of why I didn’t want to be an actor anymore, because Caissie was so good. She was so committed to the part, and it was more than just her voice; it was about the commitment, the stamina, the acting, the singing. It really was the whole package, and it was like, “Oh. This is an actor. This is what it takes to be a performer,” so I thought that I really was better suited to put it on to the page, and not be the one who’s executing it.
Caissie, do you remember the first song you heard that David wrote?
CL: I think it was probably the one I sang on my album [With You] called “Out of the Blue,” which was a song he actually wrote when he was in Good Vibrations. That song is so gorgeous, and I instantly latched on to it. The first batch of songs that I heard were from his show Static Electro, and they span all the genres. There were hip hop songs, pop songs and folk songs in there. I remember feeling quite impressed and a little more in love with him, because I realized he could write anything. I was blown away. I love a melody. I connect instantly to music and have pretty specific tastes, so to hear that whole range, that whole gamut in David’s writing was really sexy.