Any Phantom of the Opera phans here? Yes? Good, because I hope you’ve heard this news: in May, Norm Lewis is going to be playing the role of the Phantom on Broadway.
Norm Lewis, for those of you who don’t know, is a Tony-nominated Broadway veteran (he’s also in Scandal, for TV fans). In the past, he’s played such famous roles as Porgy in Porgy and Bess and Javert in Les Misérables. When he comes to Broadway on May 12th, he’ll be the first African-American to ever play the role of the Phantom on Broadway. (Robert Guillaume, another African-American, had previously played the Phantom in an L.A. production of the show.)
This is notable for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that this is yet another step toward more diversity in our theatre world. In regards to his getting the role, Lewis himself says, “I love the show but also (sic) to have hopefully set a precedent to see more diversity in casting.” This isn’t the first time Lewis has spoken out on the importance of diversity—he certainly recognizes his own position as a role model to aspiring performers of color. Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, he says, “These young, black men from high school and college, they come up to me saying, ‘You’re the reason I’m singing.’ I felt that way about Ben Vereen and Andre DeShields.”
Here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, we’ve often said that having a diverse cast can only add to the meaning of a story, not detract from it, and I think this is a prime example. The Phantom was discriminated against because in every version of the story, his face was disfigured in some sort of horrifying manner. When we add race into the equation, this is probably going to become a little uncomfortable for the audience—and that’s a good thing. This is an excellent opportunity for a discerning audience to examine their own subconscious prejudices towards both people with disabilities and people of color.
And on a lighter note, I personally can’t wait to hear him take on “Music of the Night” or the more emotionally dramatic (and more range-y) “Point of No Return”. Lewis definitely has the vocal chops for this role—just listen to him singing “Stars” from Les Misérables as proof:
What do you all think of this news? Let me know in the comments.