Lightning Striking Twice – Levi Tyrell Johnson

Levi Tyrell Johnson's remarkable journey from a council estate in Llanrhumney to Hamilton is an incredibly inspiring story. Despite being born into a family of performers, Levi taught himself music, theatre, and dance through determination and perseverance.

Levi Tyrell Johnson cuts an impressive figure, sat resplendent in his dressing room, adorned with silver rings, a cowboy hat tipped over his brow. You get a real sense that this is a performer that was born to take the stage. However, the path has been less than simple for him, & growing up on his council estate in Llanrhumney, Levi entered the musical world through a less than conventional route. 

A self-taught musician, dancer & rapper, Levi started his band Blackelvis in 2019. Heavily influenced by Lenny Kravitz, writing Hip-Hop infused Rock music. Collaborating with his big brother Isaac, Levi assembled a dedicated brotherhood of band members and supporters. 

 After COVID stopped the up-and-coming band in its tracks, this is where Levi’s career took an unexpected turn. Forced off the stage and into his home studio setup in order to remain creative – aged 25 he decided to apply to WAVDA. His initial aim, to improve his vocal and dance skills in order to further his rock band – but realising quickly that his talents perfectly suited the role of Musical Theatre performer – and it didn’t take long for him to start chasing a new dream, that he had long held, but hadn’t before thought possible – performing in Hamilton! 

Moving from strength to strength at WAVDA, culminating in his taking the lead role in Godspell in his final year show, he found himself being offered the Andrew Lloyd Webber Scholarship to the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and naturally was recruited straight out of college on to the West End show Choir of Man, before being presented with an opportunity to audition for the role that he had spent most of his life preparing for.

Levi joined me via video call from his dressing room in Bristol Hippodrome, to discuss how he got into Hamilton, what life is like on tour, and where he would like to go next! 

So how did you get from a box room in a Llanrhumney council state to the Room where it Happens?

 LJ: It doesn’t seem possible, does it? I never expected things to turn out this way! I come from a long line of performers, my Grandad and particularly my Uncle had seen a fair amount of success, being able to live off the money they made making music – so I always saw it as a viable route for me, but I always had the thought in the back of my mind, could lightning strike twice and allow me to live my dream too?

Levi rocking out with Blackelvis

 I always had big dreams, and I’ve noticed that as people around me have accepted compromise, or given up on their dreams, but that was never an option for me. My family struggled, and I struggled, and it kept me hungry – I felt like I had no alternative other than success, and this mindset has driven me to keep going, even when it seemed impossible.

“I always had the thought in the back of my mind, could lightning strike twice and allow me to live my dream too?”

It seems you’ve blazed a bit of a trail for yourself – do you feel you hold a responsibility for people in your community? 

LJ: I think we are really starting to see a change in our community in Wales. Generations before me have had to slog and struggle to get their chance at representation – but I feel like I have been given an equal shot – in fact at times I have felt cherished for my background and diversity, and it shows how far Wales has come. I can draw a lot of parallels between my success and the success of the show Hamilton. Shows like The Colour Purple & The Wiz normalised black storytelling – so that we could get to a point where Hamilton could shake the world and be viewed as a show with something to say, not just a box ticked on a diversity quota. I find it so powerful that Hamilton is the story of the American Revolution, with the history told by those who were suppressed, giving a voice back to those who had their voice taken away. 

How has the tour been? What has surprised you? 

LJ: We’ve been lucky with Hamilton, we get to stay in the same city for a couple of months, and we get to settle down. There are some stressors that come with that – having to essentially move house and find a new place to live every 10 weeks is tough, and the travel to-and-fro and been a hassle! I don’t drive so I’ve had to rely on incredible friends – one friend drove all the way from London to Edinburgh then back to Bristol with my stuff in time for the next run, in his (he won’t mind me saying this) absolute banger of a car – I still can’t believe we made it in one piece! It’s been amazing though, you get to see all these amazing cities and wonderful people, but you also have to say goodbye so quickly. I’m lucky that I’ve always been a bit of a Nomad – I like the feeling of not being tied down, and it fits my lifestyle quite well – I’m not sure where I want to settle down, so I get to have a taste of everywhere in the UK – so by the time I’m eventually ready to leave the UK I’ll be ready to leave! 

So, you’re doing a reunion gig in London with your band? 

LJ: When I graduated college and got into the West End, I had to leave my band, and it hurt my heart – but I had to follow that dream to earn a living making art! I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to get back to the music, because music has been the thing that has brought me the most joy. It’s enabled me to express myself creatively and my experiences in my own way. In theatre I’m retelling someone else’s story, in a band I’m telling my own. I’ve had a load of new experiences that I haven’t had the chance to tell yet! Next Saturday we’ll have a reunion gig in London, it’ll be a great chance to catch up with my friends, which will be awesome, and make some sick music! 

“Music has been the thing that has brought me the most joy. It’s enabled me to express myself creatively and my experiences in my own way. In theatre I’m retelling someone else’s story, in a band I’m telling my own.”

It must be a difficult choice – choosing between telling your own story through music, or telling someone else’s through musical theatre, which has nourished you and you’ve been able to make a career out of it – how are you going to balance that going forward? 

Levi appearing as Alexander Hamilton in Edinburgh on the Hamilton 2024 UK & Ireland Tour

  LJ: It’s about getting to a point where I am successful enough where I am able to focus on my main passion. For now, I’m grinding – I’m lucky enough to have a stable job and income, I’m building my home, and once that is done, I can take time away from my career as a musical theatre performer and touch base with my other passions – music, acting and even skateboarding! This job is amazing because you get to fill people’s lives with magic, but it comes at the cost of individual freedom – but it’s a good trade off, and I’m very happy! 

So, what’s next?! 

LJ: Well, at the moment I’m ensemble cover Hamilton & cover Lafayette. I still want to be main Hamilton, and that is my immediate goal. I won’t feel satisfied with this part of my life until I’ve done that role and done my best in that role. There’s another show called Hadestown that I really want to do – it’s another diverse black story, the main character is Orpheus – he plays the guitar and has a sweet voice, and I feel it’s another role that would suit me perfectly. Then I want to go to Hollywood – I want to be an action hero! It sounds like a childish dream – but all of my dreams are childish, and they keep working out, so why not?! 

Hollywood?! So, what would your dream role be? 

I would love to be in a Western – or an offbeat superhero movie like Kick Ass. If I did a “buddy cop” style movie, I would love to act opposite Jake Gyllenhaal – he’s my favourite actor – maybe Ryan Reynolds with that Welsh link – or Idris Elba, or a female would be Emma Pernell from Fallout! She’s absolutely amazing! 

So overall what’s next is 1) bring the band back & do some touring, 2) Do some movies 3) I’ve written a musical, working title “The Streets of Avalon”, about a busker in the streets of Cardiff, that I would love to bring to life! 

Amazing! Anyway, thank you for your time today, we’ve reached the end of our time, so to sign off – any final thoughts you would like to share? 

I want to put a ribbon on the interview and give it a clear finish, but it’s difficult to, because there’s so much left unwritten! I’m just going to keep working at what I love and keep making my dreams come true. Maybe check back in a year’s time and we can see how much of it came true! Thanks for the interview, big up James and BIAS, I’m sure they’re going to do great things! 

Levi has a show on June 22nd at The Juniper Room in The Hope,  Smithfield – Farringdon: an evening of acoustic renditions of his original music, stories and fun. Free entry.

Picture of Andy Hughes

Andy Hughes

Andy has been a musician since he was 6; playing his first gig at 14. With over 10 years experience on the festival circuit, he's played with acts such as Johnny Cage & The Voodoogroove, Blackelvis & Carmen Costa. Andy has performed all over the UK & Europe and on BBC2, and even once ended up performing on the West End due to an injury crisis! Andy's love is with rock music - enjoying the pleasure and excitement that a big, thick wall of interesting sound can give you - for him, there is no greater joy! Follow them on Instagram.
Picture of Andy Hughes

Andy Hughes

Andy has been a musician since he was 6; playing his first gig at 14. With over 10 years experience on the festival circuit, he's played with acts such as Johnny Cage & The Voodoogroove, Blackelvis & Carmen Costa. Andy has performed all over the UK & Europe and on BBC2, and even once ended up performing on the West End due to an injury crisis! Andy's love is with rock music - enjoying the pleasure and excitement that a big, thick wall of interesting sound can give you - for him, there is no greater joy! Follow them on Instagram.

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