Actress Caissie Levy, who starred as Elsa in the Broadway production of “Frozen,” discovered that when she became a mom, she really had to “let it go.”
“I used to be the type of actor who thought I couldn’t sing if I didn’t get eight hours of sleep. But then I got cast as Elsa with a 1-year-old at home and I said, ‘Well, I’d better figure it out,’” recalled Levy. “I got better at trying to feel comfortable without being perfect.”
Letting go of perfection is a work-in-progress for Levy, especially now that she has two children, Izaiah, 6, and Talulah,1, a husband who commutes two hours each way for work and a new off-Broadway show to prepare for.
Levy, 40, said she has learned to cope with unplanned changes and unexpected family stress by being completely transparent about it.
For example, just a few weeks ago, both of her kids were sick and the commute from her New Jersey home to New York City to rehearse for her new show “The Bedwetter” was taking its toll. After getting sick herself, Levy was exhausted. So, she decided to admit it.
She recounted telling the Atlantic Theater Company, “Heads up—I think I’m going to cry today. It’s not really about you guys. It’s just stress and exhaustion and all the things.” By admitting that she didn’t have it all together, Levy said she gave herself permission to work through her emotions and come out feeling stronger on the other side.
“I just show my mess,” Levy laughed. “And then when someone else is having a messy day, I just try to be there for them too. And I hope that that's enough.”
The ups and downs of parenthood
Levy began working for Broadway's "Frozen" in 2017, before her son was even a year old. When she had to travel to Denver, Colorado for pre-Broadway performances of the show, Izaiah and his nanny came along for the trip; her husband flew in as often as his schedule would allow.
Though Levy needed all the sleep she could get in order to act, dance and sing – and particularly belt out Elsa's high notes – Izaiah wasn't sleeping through the night, which made that summer especially tricky. Still, Levy remembered those weeks as "a magical time." She recalled: "He basically lived at the theater with me. He was there all the time: hanging out in my dressing room, seeing all the sparkly costumes, walking around on the stage in between shows and playing with all the 'snow' in the audience. It was wonderful."
Two years later, Levy was still playing Elsa, which meant that Izaiah was able to bring his preschool class to a performance of the show for his third birthday party. Izaiah also got to run into Levy's arms immediately after the finale while she was still in costume. "Those moments were just magic for me," Levy recalled.
Though performing for thousands of families for many hours a week did bring up feelings of mom guilt for Levy, she said that playing Elsa after becoming a mother made her appreciate her role that much more. Even more than watching kids enjoy the show, Levy loved watching parents watch their kids see the show. It "would always get me emotional because I now knew what that felt like to watch your little child experiencing wonder and excitement and magic and joy,” she said.
Levy has been able to bring her experiences as a mother into her most recent role. In “The Bedwetter,” a musical based on comedian Sarah Silverman’s memoir, Levy plays Beth Ann, mother of 10-year-old Sarah. In the story, Beth Ann is coping with a dysfunctional marriage, a messy divorce and the death of her first child at just three months old.
Despite the serious plot point, it “really is hilarious,” Levy promised. “It’s so funny and so full of heart. It’s not a typical musical where everything ties up neatly in a bow at the end. It’s just a bunch of people trying to figure it out, trying to love each other, love themselves, and keep learning. It’s funny and heartbreaking at the same time.”
Levy isn’t a stranger to the ups and downs of parenthood. When she was just 15 weeks pregnant with her first child, doctors told her that her baby had Intrauterine Growth Restriction, meaning that he was measuring smaller than expected. After “basically living at the doctor’s office during that pregnancy,” Izaiah was born six weeks early and weighed only about three pounds. Now, at age 6, Levy said that he’s still a “skinny dude,” but he’s hitting all of his milestones and “he has more energy than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Her second pregnancy was routine, but occurred in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I had a very typical pregnancy at a really atypical time,” Levy said. “It felt crazy to me because I kept waiting for something [bad] to happen, and I was barely going to the doctor because everything was telehealth.”
She eventually tapped into her own stressful experiences to play the role of Beth Ann.
“It brought me back to my pregnancy and first year of my child’s life when I was holding my breath and hoping everything would be OK.” Levy almost didn’t accept the role because she didn’t want to deal with her own feelings about that time in her life: “But in the end, I’m so grateful … But it’s hard.”
Setting boundaries and finding the fun
Traditionally, show rehearsals run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. But Levy knew that schedule wouldn’t work for her family. “I just said, ‘I have to leave at 5 p.m. every day. I have to get home before bedtime or my nanny’s going to quit…’” Levy asked for what she needed, and she got it.
On rehearsal days, Levy drives to New York City to start work at 10 a.m. Her nanny, who Levy calls “the best person on the planet,” takes care of childcare during the day. At times when Levy or her husband are scheduled to work especially long hours, Levy’s parents drive from Canada to lend a hand.
Even though Levy currently exits rehearsal an hour early, she still doesn’t arrive at home until 6:30 p.m., which is right in the middle of dinner, bath and “bed madness.” It’s taxing to shift from creative rehearsals to a long commute to end-of-the-day mania, but she knows she is fortunate and that not all moms are able to be home for their children’s bedtime.
“I’m excited that I get to do it. I’m also exhausted before it begins,” Levy said. “Walking into the house is an adrenaline spike that's not unlike what I experience when I'm on stage in front of thousands of people eight shows a week. You just sort of acclimate, figure it out, get through it and try to find the fun amidst all the crazy. Tears, coffee, wine…all those things help.”
Embracing the mess
Because Levy will have to miss her kids’ bedtime once the new show begins performances, she is trying to treasure every messy minute she has with her kids, especially because she has so many fond memories of her own childhood bedtime.
Levy’s father was a family physician and often worked late, but when he was able to tuck her in, they would sing and harmonize together.
“That was my introduction to singing,” Levy said. “It's really what laid the foundation for me loving music so much in my life. I sing a lot of the same songs he sang to me with my kids as well. It’s such a special thing to carry on to the next generation.”