Person of the Week: Norm Lewis Becomes Broadway’s 1st Black Phantom

By Mary Godie

Apr 4, 2014 4:25pm

“Phantom of the Opera” is the longest running show in Broadway history. It’s a turn-of-the-century tale of a deformed composer haunting the Paris Opera House, where he lures in a young singer.

Thirteen men have played the role of Phantom on Broadway, but the one making headlines is Norm Lewis.

He plays Sen. Edison Davis on ABC’s “Scandal,” but the role as Phantom is his biggest yet.

“I’m just so excited to be a part of this history,” said Lewis.

African American actor Robert Guillaume played the title role in a Los Angeles production. But now Norm Lewis is making history because he is about to become the first African American Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

“People have a certain vision of a particular character and, a lot of times, we as minorities don’t fit that particular vision,” said Lewis. “And now, I think that people are a little more open to that.”

The legendary creator of the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber, said the Broadway world is becoming more colorblind.

“I think everyone’s moved on to the point that you really don’t think that way,” said Webber.

Webber thinks people may be surprised to learn who has approached him about the role.

“Michael Jackson really wanted to play it at one point,” said Webber. “The other person who wanted to play it and never did, because I’m afraid his illness overtook him, was Sammy Davis.” 

They were big names going for one of Broadway’s biggest roles.

“I remember being so nervous and wanting it so badly,” said Lewis. “Right before I stepped on stage to do the audition, I really took a deep breath and, all of a sudden, I felt Paul Robeson, Ben Vereen, Andre DeShields. I stand on their shoulders. I felt them saying, ‘Just go do it. Just go prove to these people that you can do this.’”

And, he did it.

This week, the show’s creator, Webber, and the new star, Lewis, met for the first time in person.

“I am really delighted about this because it opens a whole new door for us,” said Webber. “It will feel like an opening night all over again.”

Lewis, no newcomer to Broadway, has a message for all aspiring actors.

“Just show up,” he said. “Just have a presence. And just make a loud noise because we all want to be heard.”

“Phantom of the Opera” featuring Norm Lewis begins on Monday, May 12, at the Majestic Theater.

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Norm Lewis is the first African American Phantom on Broadway.

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