BroadwayBox teams up with photographer Curtis Brown to present "Ushering in a New Golden Age", an exclusive photo and interview series in which we spotlight the breakout stars from the 2018 Broadway season and style each like Broadway's original age. This illustrious crew of Tony nominees, Drama Desk nominees, and fan favorites was photographed at the beautiful Hudson Theatre (home to next season's new musical Head Over Heels). Next up is Storm Lever, the petite young woman with a huge, show-stopping voice making her Broadway debut as Duckling Donna in Summer, The Donna Summer Musical.
1. Was there a big role in high school or college that gave you the confidence to pursue this?
One of the first things I did in high school was a production of Sweeney Todd—which I adore! I was cast as Tobias of all things. I knew the song “Not While I’m Around” because my mom used to sing it to me falling asleep. I loved the experience because I playing a role that was traditionally for a boy, and I got to see how you could interpret things differently in the theatre—gender and race don’t matter, it’s whatever suits the part. I love that freedom to be someone else and explore different elements of myself. I think when someone took a risk on me in that amazing musical, I knew for sure this is the industry for me.
2. What has changed most in your life since taking on the role of young Donna Summer?
Honestly, my life right now revolves around the show. It’s eight shows a week, and a lot of singing—Donna Summer made it sound easy but her songs are gorgeous and challenging and epic. In order to sustain that, you have to get lots of sleep and drinks lots of water and not go to loud places. My daily life has changed because I’ve created a lifestyle that’s focused on producing that sound for the show and also be in the right emotional place for the show every night.
3. This series is all about this Broadway season’s breakout performers. If you could time machine back and see any big Broadway icon’s breakout stage performance, whose would you want to go back and see?
Ohhh. I think I’d want to see Audra’s. Audra McDonald is such an icon and has done so many incredible roles. Her voice is in a league of its own! I want to see Carousel and the moment everybody knew, ‘oh this woman is sticking around. She’s a star.’
4. What’s the most sentimental thing in your dressing room?
I’m a sentimental person so there’s a lot of stuff. I’ll go with my wall of photos. It’s the first thing I put up in my dressing room before anything else. It’s right by where I get ready every day, and it’s just a bunch of pictures of all of the people I need with me on this journey and have led me on this journey—my family and my chosen family.
5. What’s been your biggest obstacle in reaching this point?
I was reading this post on Facebook telling this story to young actors: ‘I know this girl who got cast as a lead in the show. After doing the first leg of the production, they told her they were going to go with another actress and they wanted to demote her to an ensemble role. Most actors would leave the production with a chip on their shoulder and not take the offer, but this actor continued on with the production and handled it with grace. Now this girl is making her Broadway debut as a lead role.’
This was referring to me and Freaky Friday. There's a moment you realize this industry isn’t about you. You’re doing it for something greater. It’s not personal if you’re not cast. It’s about the storytelling—it’s bigger than you. You have to set your ego aside time and again. Your duty isn’t to yourself; your duty is to this character and representing this person the best way you possibly can. That’s been difficult to keep in mind but has served me well time and time again.
6. As the originator of this role, what piece of advice would you give to future actresses who will one day play Ducking Donna—be it on Broadway, on the road, or at their school?
First, read The Ugly Duckling book. Keep it in your dressing room and look at it every day for inspiration. It’s a great children’s story. I’d also say read Donna’s autobiography, Ordinary Girl, because it’s difficult to learn about the duckling version of her. So much of what we know and see of Donna isn’t that girl. We know the glamorous girl and this confident woman, but that is not how she perceived herself for so much of her lifetime. That book gives so much insight from the woman about when she was younger and the insecurity we all have—Am I worthy enough? Am I good enough? Am I beautiful enough? Am I talented enough?
Photographed by Curtis Brown at The Hudson Theatre. Makeup by Claudia Eltabie & Liv Swenson from Rouge Makeup Salons, Hair by Austin Thornton, Styling by Kinsland Howell Alice in Kinsland Styling. Clothing courtesy of Melissa Carter of I Am the Carter Projekt.
Click here to see the entire "Ushering in a New Golden Age" series, and don't miss Storm Lever in Summer at Broadway's Lunt Fontanne Theatre.