City Winery is about to have a gay ol' time with two performers on Pride Month. Out singers Levi Kreis and Anne Steele began their careers at Opryland, a country-music theme park that has long since been torn down, in Nashville. Now, they are performing together with their own toe-tapping music and original stories for one night only in Chicago.
Tony Award winner Kreis began his career with the national tour of Rent, then landed the unforgettable role of Jerry Lee Lewis in the jukebox musical Million Dollar Quartet. He's released many albums over the years including his most recent titled Liberated last year.
Steele just released her new EP, Made Out of Stars, in January of this year. Her single "Love Can Take Us There" benefits victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and was chosen as the official Provincetown Carnival anthem in 2016.
Windy City Times: How are you both?
Levi Kreis: Great. I just saw you in Puerto Vallarta last year!
WCT: Yes. We talked after your show there. Anne, I don't know you, though. You are a New Yorker?
Anne Steele: I live in New Jersey now. I lived in New York for 22 years. I'm originally from Louisiana, so a Midwestern girl.
WCT: We will get along fine; I thought you were a Yankee, at first. How did you two team up for the tour?
LK: I met Anne online years later, but we used to work together at Opryland USA's final season of performing. I just fell in love with her. She's really talented and a total sweetheart.
AS: We were dance partners, right?
LK: Yes, with big lifts, Jerry, that would still impress you 20 years later.
AS: Levi, your mom said she has photos.
LK: Two photo books full, absolutely!
WCT: Opryland was my first job at 15 years old. I worked in the games and had to guess people's ages or weight.
LK: How ironicbecause those are the two things you are not allowed to guess now!
WCT: Did you know singer Kristin Chenoweth used to work at Opryland, too?
LK: I didn't know that, but I could totally hear her sing "I Hear America Singing."
WCT: Tell the readers about this show together.
AS: It's really a co-bill. I will do my own set, we will take a break, then Levi will do his set, each for about an hour and 10 minutes.
LK: We decided to do something around Pride weekend. I haven't had a chance to perform in Chicago for a Pride event since Market Days years ago.
Back during Opryland, we didn't know we would find ourselves like this later on. We are now more comfortable in our own skins. We have that journey in common and want to give back to the community.
WCT: I usually ask it the other way around, but is there anything for straight people at this show?
AS: We love our straight allies.
LK: Yes, like my entire straight band. Let's start there! Both Anne and I have band members that are from Chicago. They are also well known in the theater community.
WCT: Are you singing George Michael's "Freedom," like I saw on YouTube, Anne?
AS: I don't know if that will be on the playlist. This set has a strong foundation of original music. I plan on doing my new EP Made Out of Stars that I recorded in LA. I will do my last EP and some covers with gay anthems.
WCT: There's a cover of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" on the latest record, Anne.
AS: Yes. I wanted something familiar that people know on the album. I picked it because a song written so long ago still resounds so well in our political environment today. When I listened to the words, it just made so much sense to me right now.
WCT: The lyric "turn your back on Mother Nature" struck me as something that now could apply to climate change.
AS: It was written in the early '80s, but still very relevant today. When you hear a song covered in a different way sometimes you hear the lyrics differently. I wanted to get the message across with those lyrics.
WCT: Levi, you dropped to albums last year, so are you performing Christmas songs at City Winery?
LK: It's Christmas in June! No, we do a holiday show every year with it. I will be singing songs from Liberated. There will also be songs I have written for Del Shores' Souther Baptist Sissies and Sons of Anarchy.
I will just represent the high points of my entire catalogue. I might venture into new material just to get some of it under my belt. I know fans will discover some unreleased material that evening.
WCT: Do you have a favorite musical?
AS: I am obsessed with Jagged Little Pill, which is about to come to Broadway. The tickets are just going on sale for New York, but I saw it in Boston. It is going to explode. It's the music of Alanis Morissette, but not her story.
Jagged Little Pill was one of those albums that changed me as a singer and a person.
LK: The very first musical I saw at a young age was Sweeney Todd. I have an affinity for a dark story. I can't get Dear Evan Hansen out of my brain. It is like velcro. It will never leave!
AS: I just had a Hamilton cast member named Euan Morton on my podcast, #ilovemywifepodcast. We have been doing it for almost a year and a half now. Our producers asked us to do the podcast. They felt there needed to be more lesbian voices out there in the world. We are parents and my wife owns a travel company for LGBT families. I'm a singer and songwriter. We have an interesting family life. We have talented friends on the podcast every week.
WCT: What else do you have coming up?
LK: I have a new single coming out in September leading up to a new album release next year. At this stage when I am laying the ground work it drives me crazy. I know what's coming but I can't share it yet. I can't be quiet much longer!
AS: I am still on my Made Out of Stars Tour and touring it this whole year. I am doing several LGBT charters such as RSVP Vacations, R Family Vacations and an Atlantis cruise. So that is my summer!
Roll out a barrel of wine for Steele and Kreis at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., on Tuesday, June 18, at 8 p.m., with tickets at CityWinery.com .