April 9, 2009
Foregoing singing/songwriting, stage, screen and soap-opera score success, Levi Kreis spent 10 years drilling divinity into the Bible Belt. As a closeted, pre-teen Tennessean turned gospel-preaching evangelical, he promoted piety through puberty and secretly employed the ex-gay ministry while faith-healing fundamentalists and sermonizing for sanctimonious southerners-—but he never blessed them. ("That's very Catholic," Kreis explains. "I was Pentecostal.") Instead, he laid his hands on them, a religious remedy that the ex-worship worker still feels practical.
Resigning pious professions and gay aversion-ism, a proudly queer, then 22-year-old Kreis ventured to New York, and later L.A., to pursue singing and acting. Subsequently, Kreis was featured as a break-out musician in an episode of The Apprentice, but his supporting role in 2001's Frailty was mostly edited-out. He jokingly dedicated his 2005 debut album, One of the Ones, to "all the boys I dated that I thought were the one," but ironically became a hit with heartland housewives when his music scored play on daytime soaps.
He performed songs from his then-upcoming second CD, The Gospel According to Levi, at Wrigley Field during the 2006 Gay Games, and returned to Chicago two years later, trading L.A. for Lincoln Park after getting a lead in "Million Dollar Quartet." Currently in its second extended run at the Apollo Theater, the musical opened last September. Kreis's spotlight-stealing performance—-playing a just-signed, 1956 Jerry Lee Lewis in a live jam session with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley--has been collecting critics' acclaim ever since. The Chicago Tribune called his portrayal, "One of the best theater moments of 2008."
But pshaw-ing the praise, Kreis modestly attests, "I'm lucky. It's like this part was just tailored to suit me," considering Lewis' similar southern roots, choral backgrounds and mutually aggressive piano playing.
Kreis's third album, Where I Belong, drops May 5.