While he’s an Arizona State University alum, this is the first time Ari Levin, the executive director of The Madison Center for the Arts, is calling Greater Phoenix home during his professional career. And it’s been quite an impressive and eclectic career.
Levin, who is Jewish, is one of only a handful of Americans to play the title role of Hamlet, as well as produce and direct national tours with members of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company in England. He was also the executive producer and director of the “Superstars of the Kirov Ballet” for their only U.S. performance. In addition, he has directed “Star Trek: The Experience,” had his own show on the Las Vegas strip called “Xtreme Magic,” and produced and directed the grand opening of 2007 NBA All-Star Game with Kobe Bryant.
“I would say my top career highlight was as the producer and director of over 30 episodes of Oprah’s ‘Where are they Now.’ Oprah’s people actually reached out to me after seeing my work and I couldn’t believe it,” Levin said. “When Oprah asks for you, you say yes. She’s amazing.”
Other highlights include directing and executive producing several Lifetime Achievement Awards. “I’ve had the honor of producing the Lifetime Achievement Award for so many incredibly talented people, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Goldie Hawn and Jodie Foster,” he said.
These credits and more give Levin the background needed to support The Madison during its inaugural season. The center officially recently opened in Phoenix and its staff and performers are working to bring live performances back after the pandemic’s restrictions. The new venue is home to a 904-seat auditorium and is at the beginning of its 2021-2022 season.
Leading the charge in a changed world is Levin, who moved to Greater Phoenix for the executive director role in April 2020 — right as the pandemic paused live performances.
He has been at work signing “Broadway performances,” which have yet to reach Arizona, he said.
“As the executive director of The Madison it’s my job to create the theatre’s first-ever professional season and fill it with memorable, exciting performances,” Levin explained. “I’m really focused on bringing in acts that have never been to the Valley or state and that add another level of cultural influence into the community.”
For example, in May, The Madison hosted two cultural performances: “Mariachi Sol de Mexico” and the “Zuzu African Acrobats.”
With a new role and a brand-new theatre, Levin shared that his work also includes building awareness of the new venue. “I want people to know we’re here. The Madison Center for the Arts is a brand new, beautiful, $24 million venue in Central Phoenix, but because we’ve never had big shows before, a lot of people have never heard of us,” he said.
A unique aspect of The Madison is that it is owned by the Madison School District and the funds from its shows go directly back to the schools and the Madison Education Foundation.
The Madison is “ready to wow Phoenix with our inaugural season,” Levin said. The 2021 season includes Jimmy Buffet’s “Escape to Margaritaville,” “Potted Potter,” “American Ballet Theatre Studio” and “Santa’s Circus.”
For potential patrons concerned about pandemic safety precautions, Levin shared that The Madison is doing what they can to keep the community safe. “The Madison has the necessary health and safety guidelines in place, including requiring all patrons to wear masks while inside the building, seats are sanitized between every performance, and hand sanitizer is placed throughout the venue,” he said.
As a new resident, Levin admitted he is still finding his footing in the local Jewish community.
“I just moved from Scottsdale to Gilbert a couple of months ago and work has kept my extremely busy, so I’m still settling in,” he said. “I’ve already met some wonderful people in the Jewish community that have helped me in starting my career and life here. The support I’ve received has meant the world to me.”
One reason for taking the job is the challenge of building the first season of a new venue with a lot of potential. “I can be as creative and ambitious as I want to be and I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity,” he said.
While his resume in the entertainment industry is impressive, Levin said that his proudest accomplishment is being a father to his son, Jonah, 17, who made the move to Arizona with him. JN
To learn more about The Madison Center for the Arts, visit themadison.org.