Friday, Aug 22, 2014 03:39 pm est

‘Porgy and Bess’ star Norm Lewis to don Phantom’s mask

Posted on April 2, 2014 | by Dylan Jarrett


After more than 25 years on Broadway — the longest run of any Broadway production — “The Phantom of the Opera” rarely makes headlines anymore. The production has remained virtually the same since the 1980s, with a series of talented yet unknown actors cycling through the many roles.

There was a 25th anniversary celebration last year, which was commemorated by fan favorite and “Little Mermaid” star Sierra Boggess taking over the role of Christine. However, even that momentous anniversary was not able to stir up much conversation about the trademark production.

But just recently, news of the Phantom sent social media into a frenzy with the announcement that Broadway veteran Norm Lewis will be playing the title role opposite Boggess starting in May.

Lewis, best known for his Tony-nominated role in the much-praised 2012 production of “Porgy and Bess,” carries name recognition far beyond that of most actors who have played the Phantom. He is arguably the first star to take on the role in recent years.

Additionally, Lewis played King Triton opposite Boggess’ Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” so fans are likely eager to see the co-stars reunite on stage. Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda even began tweeting lyrical mashups of the two musicals using the hashtag #PhantomMermaid.

However, the real cause of the buzz surrounding Lewis’ casting is that he will be the first black actor to play the iconic role, which was originated by Michael Crawford.

This casting change marks a significant step forward for colorblind casting on Broadway. Over the years, “Phantom” has created its own legacy. While it exists within the 19th-century France of its setting, “Phantom” has expanded far past that limited scope. It is a fixture on Broadway —  the Phantom’s mask has loomed over Times Square for decades at a time. And why shouldn’t a black actor slip behind that mask?

In a season with 12 new musicals on Broadway, only two — “Aladdin” and “After Midnight” — feature people of color as their leading characters. While shows like these, as well as the currently running “The Book of Mormon” and “Motown,” do feature many people of color, seeing a black actor take over a role that has been played by a white man for 25 years is a refreshing change of pace.

The new Phantom does not diminish the importance of new musicals, which are key to expanding the representation of diversity onstage, but it is essential to show that actors have the opportunity to play established roles, regardless of their own race or the race of the people who originated the parts.

Regardless of these sensitive implications, Lewis is sure to be fantastic in the role. Visit the Majestic Theater starting May 12 to see him don the Phantom’s mask.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 2 print edition. Dylan Jarrett is books/theater editor. Email her at


  • John Francis Fox

    I want to thank Dylan Jarrett for the informative article about “Phantom of the Opera.” But, although Mr. Lewis will be the first black actor to play the part on Bdwy, Robert Guilliame was actually the first black actor to play the part. He played the Phantom in LA back in 1990. I’m just sorry that it took Bdwy almost 24 years to catch up to LA.

profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.