Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why Broadway's First Black "Phantom" is a Really Big Deal

When the announcement was made recently that Tony Nominee Norm Lewis was slated to make history as the first African American to play the lead role in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, I found out because my theater-nerd students were ecstatically posting about it on Facebook.
Kate and Denisse with Norm Lewis at the Porgy and Bess stage door
Kate and Denisse with Norm Lewis at the Porgy and Bess stage door
The reason so many of my students are fans of Lewis’ work is that it was his performance as Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables that convinced them to take a chance on a show they’d never heard of and audition for our production of Les Misat Bronx Prep. I’m not prone to waiting at Broadway stage doors (or taking selfies with stars for that matter), but when I told a couple of my students I was seeing Lewis in Porgy and Bess on Broadway back in the summer of 2012, they demanded that I stay after the show and deliver a message on their behalf. “Tell him that if he hadn’t been such an awesome Javert,” they said, “we probably never would have tried out for Les Mis, and we would have missed out on one of the best shows our school has ever put on.”
When we first considered doing Les Misérables at Bronx Prep, our musical director Geoffrey Kiorpes and my co-director Denisse Polanco and I didn’t actually think it would fly.

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