First Black ‘Phantom’ arrives on Broadway

Norm Lewis in “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Photo by Bruce Glikas
Photo by Bruce Glikas

History continues to name African-Americans in achieving, first-time positions on Broadway. This time, the honor goes to actor Norm Lewis who is currently starring as the principal character in “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest running show. Lewis stepped into the demanding role after the musical opera’s 26-year run at the Majestic Theater. His arrival marks Broadway history and he is now forever etched into Broadway history as the first African-American actor to play the title role on the Great White Way. He replaced Laird Mackintosh who fashioned the familiar, white half-mask during an interim following the departure of Hugh Panaro.

Returning to Broadway after receiving a Tony nomination for his starring role as Porgy — with six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald who portrayed Bess in the Gershwin musical “Porgy & Bess”– Lewis is probably best-known to television audience for his performance as Senator Edison Davis on the popular ABC drama “Scandal.”

Daytime viewers will recall his appearances on “All My Children.”

Although he has appeared in countless Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, he is now receiving critical acclaim for his portrayal of the “pitiful creature of darkness.”

Accompanied by a full orchestra, Lewis must sing the operas Andrew Lloyd Webber designated to tell the story of a haunted soul who roams the theater world to find a voice he can hone to angelic perfection.

That half his face is shielded by a mask does not impede on the Phantom’s ability to out-sing, out-perform and lure any beguiling figure. Fascinating as his character though, the Phantom is feared and perhaps respected for his magical prowess. Lewis adds more magic to the role. Alluring, enduring and quizzical, he is able to tailor his own image of how his Phantom is different from any other.

With spectacular chandeliers to add to the drama, the new and improved version features a masquerade ball, a graveyard scene, an underground Labrynth, a lake, a rooftop encounter and rehearsals which spotlight melodious voices of operatic singers.

Surround sound provides spinning attention to the audio capabilities of technical experts Mick Potter and Martin Levan.

Alongside Sierra Boggess, who ably acts the angel-voiced singer Christine Daae, Lewis conquers the role and will likely help the musical through to enjoy many, many Broadway seasons with its record-breaking accomplishment of being the most successful Broadway production of all time.

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