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First black lead for ‘Phantom of the Opera’

NEW YORK: Norm Lewis has been tapped to be Broadway’s next Phantom in the megahit The Phantom of the Opera, a move that makes him the first African-American to slip behind the famous mask.

Producers said Thursday the Tony Award nominee, who brought his deep and rich voice as Porgy to the recent Porgy and Bess revival, will make his Phantom debut opposite a returning Sierra Boggess as Christine beginning May 12.

“I’m overwhelmed. The idea of doing something that I’ve always wanted to do and it coming to fruition is amazing,” Lewis said in a phone interview Thursday.

Lewis, who has appeared as a senator inScandal with Kerry Washington, called the Phantom a dream job for two reasons: “I love the show but also to have hopefully set a precedent to see more diversity in casting,” he said.

Lewis played John in Miss Saigon on Broadway, Javert on Broadway in Les Miserables in 2006 and was in the shows Side Show, The Little Mermaid, Chicago and Sondheim on Sondheim. Lewis will be the first black Phantom on Broadway, though Robert Guillaume played the role in the Los Angeles production in 1990.

Boggess is an old hand with Phantom – she played Christine in both the musical’s London 25th anniversary production at Royal Albert Hall and Broadway 25th Anniversary cast last year. Her other starring Broadway credits include Terrence McNally’s Master Class and originating the title role in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, Phantom tells the story of a deformed composer who haunts the Paris Opera House and falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lavish songs include Masquerade, Angel of Music, All I Ask of You, The Phantom of the Opera and The Music of the Night.

Lewis will join a list of Phantoms since the show opened in 1988 that includes Michael Crawford, Steve Barton, John Cudia, Kevin Gray, Mark Jacoby, Marcus Lovett, Brad Little, Howard McGillin and Hugh Panaro.

Lewis said he’s seen Phantom several times over the years and cites McGillin and Panaro as quintessential Phantoms – “even behind the masks, they were so debonair and sexy and handsome,” Lewis said.

“I hope to bring that same sort of mystique and class and elegance to the role. It’s an actor’s dream to play a character that’s so misunderstood and to try to make him a character who is understood.”

The musical has played to over 130 million people in 27 countries and has grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide – more than any film in history, including Avatar, Titanic, Gone With the Wind and Star Wars.