THEATERMANIA: Was there a specific moment when you knew you would be a performer?
CAISSIE LEVY: I think there was. I was very young when I started performing and I remember very vividly going over my lines for a production of Free To Be You and Me, and I thought, "this is fun!" I also played basketball for years -- where you have to able to think on your feet, work with a team, and improvise within a structure. It's very much what theater is about also. Pursuing both was a great well-rounded way to grow up, but my brain didn't function as well on a basketball court as it does on stage. As I got older and started studying plays, I just knew it was what I would end up doing.
TM: Did you know Hair before you took the role of Sheila?
CL: Yes. it's always been on my radar. I've always been a fan of the 1960s and felt like maybe I was born at the wrong time. I'm definitely a feminist and I appreciate the influence that the '60s have had on our history. Like a lot of people, I identify strongly with the music and with the struggle. And I find the women from that time really fascinating because of what they achieved in the music business and in the world.
TM: Did you draw from any female icons from that period to play Sheila?
CL: I did. I loosely based her partly on Janis Joplin -- her fire and passion, her abandon, and her recklessness -- and partly on Joni Mitchell, because she's a hyper-intelligent, incredibly sensitive, heart on her sleeve kind of girl. That duality is so interesting about her and why it's never boring to play Sheila; she's a person with two wildly different sides. She can be balls-to-the-wall when it comes to the movement, but so sensitive and vulnerable when it comes to her relationship with Berger. He puts her in a place that even the war can't.
TM: Why do you think the show is resonating so strongly right now with today's audiences?
CL: I think it's a combination of things. Politically where we're at I think people are itching for a story that makes them think about politics and world views and spirituality, so in that way I feel it's a perfect show to have on Broadway right now. I think it's an iconic piece of theater that people love and are attached to. But I think it goes deeper than that; I really believe that people come to the show and they leave with energy levels buzzing on a different plane. It's not just about the content and the songs, it's about the tribe and the audience becoming one. These women are coming up to me at the end of the show during the dance party and crying. They say "I was you! I looked just like you!" or "I was at the Pentagon, and you don't know where you've taken me tonight."
TM: Does being in the show affect your off-stage behavior as well?
CL: The message of Hair is not something we leave at the theater. For example. we all participate as much as we can in charitable events, I have a good friend, Lindsay Thomas, who's been on Broadway and has worked extensively at the Stratford Festival, who is 31 and never smoked a day in her life, and was recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer which spread to other organs in her body. She's fighting for her life. I was telling someone about it backstage and then everybody wanted to know what we could all do to help, so we're doing a benefit for her on September 14 at Joe's Pub; they graciously gave us the space for a couple of shows. We're going do songs from the 1960s and 70s; we're going to auction things off like a dinner with me, Gavin Creel, and Will Swenson, and the producers have donated walk-ons in the show and things like that.