Ari Levin’s career as an artist has taken him around the world, but he always returns to Arizona.
Born in Tucson, Levin is the executive director for the new, $24 million Madison Center for the Arts, 5601 N. 16th Street, Phoenix.
His goal for the 908-seat auditorium is to present shows that have yet to be seen in Arizona — and sometimes the world.
The upcoming season includes a visit by the well-known Swiss-based theater troupe Mummenschanz. Its 50th anniversary tour brings it to Arizona for the first time on its only U.S. stop.
“I am concentrating on bringing different shows — art, music, dance, theater — that has never been to Arizona,” Levin says. “I’m searching for unique programming that has never been to the entire state or even the United States.”
Levin was raised in Las Vegas but returned to the Grand Canyon State to attend ASU, where he played trombone in its orchestra. He even starred in a cult classic horror film.
His university experience inspired him to take the Madison job.
“I loved ASU when I was there, and my son is there now,” Levin says. “I came back because I just loved it here and had the chance to create something artistically and bring culture, dance and theater that had never been here before.”
Levin spent several years as a performer before moving on to produce and direct for major arts organizations around the world. He hit the stage with London’s Royal Shakespeare Company. He was one of a handful of Americans who have portrayed Hamlet for them. He’d also eventually direct it for the world-renowned organization.
He was later be responsible for bringing the only RSC production of “Hamlet” to the United States.
“I think ‘Hamlet’ is Shakespeare’s best-written play,” Levin says. “It flows the best. It’s his only play where he establishes every single character in the first sentence.”
As executive producer and director, he was responsible for bringing Russia’s Kirov Ballet — now called the Mariinsky Ballet — to the country for its lone U.S. performance.
“Those were things on the highest level that I brought to different places,” Levin says. “That’s what I want to see about doing here.”
In Las Vegas, he served as entertainment director at The Tropicana and helmed La Folies Bergere. He cast and directed “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton and had his own show on the strip called “Xtreme Magic.”
He is still the executive producer of Vegas’ CinemaCon — the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners. With it, he served as executive director for the Lifetime Achievement Awards for Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Jodie Foster, among others.
Other achievements include producing and directing the grand opening of the 2007 NBA All-Star Game with Kobe Bryant, producing more than 30 episodes of Oprah Winfrey’s “Where Are They Now” for four years and writing, producing and directing for ShoWest, Paramount Studios, CNN and the BBC.
The producing side has had great appeal and reward for Levin.
“It’s about having full artistic and creative control,” Levin says. “That is what appealed to me.”
When he arrived at the Madison Center for the Arts at the beginning of the pandemic, he built it from the ground up.
“There was nothing set up here,” Levin says. “I had to do everything from hiring all the staff to getting the ticking system to everything. During the pandemic, that’s what I was doing. It was a matter of finding shows and everything else, but also waiting to find out when things could happen, when we could go back to live.”
Phoenix offers the artists something not found elsewhere, says Levin, who splits his time between Gilbert and Los Angeles. Many Valley cities have performing arts centers.
“Los Angeles doesn’t even have that,” Levin says. “You can go to Scottsdale, Chandler, Madison and they are all these beautiful, beautiful facilities. My goal is to make (Madison) just as popular as all the other centers for the arts.”
The Madison Center for the Arts is owned by the Madison School District, so Levin has scheduled free afternoon performances for students.
He also partners with Madison artists to create free master classes for district Madison students to come to the center and to learn from the world’s best artists.
“Every show I have done here does that,” Levin says. “It’s free to the entire Madison School District, including Title I schools. It’s fantastic, and several hundred kids attend.”
In the upcoming months, the Madison Center for the Arts will feature:
The ASU Concert Series
Thursdays March 3 and March 24
Thursday, March 10
Thursday, March 31, to Sunday, April 3
Mariachi Sol De Mexico de Jose Hernandez Cinco de Mayo Celebration
Thursday, May 5
Mummenschanz 50 years
Friday, November 18, to Tuesday, November 22.
The Madison Center for the Arts is located at 5601 N. 16th Street, Phoenix. For more information, call 602.664.7777 or visit themadison.org.