Broadway welcomes its first Black 'Phantom' lead

Theater Phantom of the Opera
This May 12, 2014 photo released by The Publicity Office shows Norm Lewis, left, and Sierra Boggess acknowledging applause on the pair’s opening night with the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic Theatre, in New York. Lewis is the first African-American actor to take on the title role in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” (AP Photo/The Publicity Office, Bruce Glikas)

NEW YORK (AP) — A thunderous standing ovation congratulated Norm Lewis as he became the first Black actor to take on the title role in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The Tony Award nominee, who brought his deep and rich voice as Porgy to the recent “Porgy and Bess” revival, made his “Phantom” debut Monday night opposite a returning Sierra Boggess as Christine.
Lewis played John in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway, Javert on Broadway in “Les Miserables” in 2006 and was in the shows “Side Show,” ”The Little Mermaid,” ”Chicago” and “Sondheim on Sondheim.”
Lewis is the first Black Phantom on Broadway, although Robert Guillaume played the role in the Los Angeles production in 1990. Lewis’ debut in the musical makes him Broadway’s 13th Phantom.
Boggess is an old hand with “Phantom” — she played Christine in both the musical’s London 25th anniversary production at Royal Albert Hall and Broadway 25th Anniversary cast last year. Her other starring Broadway credits include Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” and originating the title role in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
Based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, “Phantom” tells the story of a deformed composer who haunts the Paris Opera House and falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lavish songs include “Masquerade,” ”Angel of Music,” ”All I Ask of You,” ”The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Music of the Night.”
Norm Lewis
This May 18, 2012 file photo shows actor Norm Lewis at the 78th Annual Drama League Awards in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)

Lewis will join a list of Phantoms since the show opened in 1988 that includes Michael Crawford, Steve Barton, John Cudia, Kevin Gray, Mark Jacoby, Marcus Lovett, Brad Little, Howard McGillin and Hugh Panaro.
Lewis said he’s seen “Phantom” several times over the years and cites McGillin and Panaro as quintessential Phantoms — “even behind the masks, they were so debonair and sexy and handsome,” Lewis said.
“I hope to bring that same sort of mystique and class and elegance to the role. It’s an actor’s dream to play a character that’s so misunderstood and to try to make him a character who is understood.”
The musical has played to over 130 million people in 27 countries and has grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide — more than any film in history, including “Avatar,” ”Titanic,” ”Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.”

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