“You put it out there into the universe and hopefully it hears you,” Kate Levering said.
The actress and dancer was referring to an earlier development in her career when she moved from musical theater into television. Levering was also knowingly referencing the present as she prepares to star in the Music Circus season-opening production of “A Chorus Line.”
Truly “A Chorus Line” doesn’t have stars as the musical tells the various stories of 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway show. Levering plays Cassie, a gifted former star who left New York for Los Angeles and has returned looking for a job, any job. Some of Levering’s story is in Cassie, but the true narrative has more layers and less melodrama.
Levering grew up in Sacramento, and her family still lives here. She started dancing as child, taking tap-dance classes from the legendary LaVerne Krei in Carmichael.
“She was very strict and old-school. She gave me everything,” Levering said of Krei in 2001 as she was then preparing for a starring role as Peggy Sawyer in the Broadway revival of the show business classic “42nd Street.” That’s where her training with Krei had taken her.
As a 22-year-old tap-dancing prodigy, Levering would play the ultimate ingenue, earn a nomination for the Tony Award in the best featured actress in a musical category and win the Fred Astaire Award for best female dancer for her dancing in the show. Levering and the “42nd Street” cast performed the opening number of the Tony Awards television broadcast that year.
To get there, the very young Levering had begun performing around Sacramento in community theater and in the local rite of passage, Dave MacDonald’s annual Best of Broadway revues. While Levering was still in the eighth grade, Leland Ball, then producing director of Music Circus, hired her for the local ensemble in the national touring production of “Singin’ In the Rain.”
She was 13 when she auditioned and 14 when the show opened.
“I think we put my age up,” said Levering, now 35. It was her first professional job, and Ball hired her often after that. From 1993 through 1998, Levering appeared in 18 productions for the Music Circus tent and the Broadway Series.
After turning 18 and graduating from El Camino Fundamental High School, Levering headed to New York.
“I went to a cattle call audition for ‘Chicago’ and booked it,” she said. “And I was immediately on the road.”
She rarely stopped working and never stopped looking for work.
Eventually “42nd Street” came around, and on the heels of that, “Thou Shalt Not.” Levering was chosen by director-choreographer Susan Stroman (“The Producers”) to star in the musical based on the Émile Zola novel “Thérèse Raquin” with original music by Harry Connick Jr.
“I was actually doing something very similar to Music Circus that I did as a young girl,” Levering said. “I was rehearsing one show during the day and performing a different Broadway show at night.”
It was a grind and at times Levering felt like “a hamster on a wheel,” but nobody complains about starring in Broadway shows, certainly not Levering.
But her experience with “Thou Shalt Not” was both a cautionary tale in being careful what you wish for and an exercise in fortitude.
“I think it’s fair to say it was a big flop – and I was the star of that show, and it was heartbreaking,” Levering said.
“Because it was Lincoln Center, it was a subscription audience, so we had to stay open. You have to get on stage every day and perform even though people are not liking the show and more specifically not liking you in the show. It was very hard. It took a lot out of me.”
The time seemed right to step away from New York as Levering began considering other possibilities. Even though she grew up in musical theater, she always felt she could work in television and film. She had also been grinding nonstop for as long as she could remember.
“I thought I haven’t seen my family. I haven’t been to any Christmases. Every Thanksgiving I’m up at 4 in the morning doing the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I’m missing life,” Levering said.
“Some people would say I was chased out of town; at that point I would say I politely bowed out for a second.”
Levering made an often-diffcult artistic career change seem effortless. A solid television career kicked in for the next decade with roles across a spectrum of shows including “Cold Case,” “Medium” and “CSI: Miami.” Levering was a regular on the one season of “Kevin Hill,” starring Taye Diggs in a cast including Christina Hendricks, now of “Mad Men.” Since 2009 Levering has been regularly seen as Kim Kaswell on the show “Drop Dead Diva.”
In April 2013 Levering married Los Angeles-based businessman Reza Jahangiri at the Beverly Hills Hotel and their son, Holden Robert, was born in July.
She had not closed the door on musical theater, and the role of Cassie in “A Chorus Line” at the Music Circus was a rather auspicious confluence.
“It’s perfect. Cassie’s a bucket list role for me,” Levering said.
The role has an extended dramatic solo dance in the show, “The Music and the Mirror,” which has become a signature high point of “A Chorus Line.”
“I should play this role before I die, and if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it, because of the dancing, the stamina it takes to do ‘Music and the Mirror’ is no joke. I still cannot get through this number without huffing and puffing.”
Levering acknowledges the emotional weight of coming home again, but she’s not alone. Also in the “Chorus Line” cast, as Sheila, is actress-dancer Jenifer Foote, whom Levering has known since her Krei dance studio days. They are best friends. Foote too has had a successful New York/Broadway career in shows including “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Rock of Ages,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and a revival of “Follies.”
Foote believes the early training they received taught them more than just how to be good dancers.
“She (Krei) taught us how to be what she thought was a professional and gave us a really, really diciplined way of dancing and work ethic. Here’s how you show up to class. We were kids, but she treated us like we were adults, and it was great,” Foote said.
Foote also has an intimate perspective of Levering, having danced and trained with her since childhood.
“Kate has always, since we were really young, had tremendous instincts and great natural ability. She’s worked very, very hard, but there’s this magic thing that’s always been inside her since she was a little girl,” Foote said.
A group of unusually determined Sacramento kids including Levering and Foote kicked around the fertile Sacramento training ground of their youth before going east and developing professional careers. Another friend from that time, Jenny Parsinen, is back here now as well, assisting “A Chorus Line” director Stafford Arima.
“It takes tremendous dedication and tremendous work, but it was just a natural path for us,” Foote said. “We all just kind of followed in each other’s footsteps. We all came on that path together and never thought about anything else.”
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.