Broadway’s longest running show in history, The Phantom of the Opera took a huge step towards diversity in 2014 by casting its first ever black actor as the title role. Although this may have been monumental for the industry, it is almost simultaneously upsetting that finally casting a black actor created some taboo excitement. The only other black actor to ever play the role is Robert Guillaume, who portrayed the Phantom in Los Angeles in 1990.
What I find so interesting is the fact that although the role does not have a specific color assigned to it, it has always been played by a white actor. Some roles understandably have a necessary race. For example, Huckleberry Finn in Big River and Willie Conklin in Ragtime are white due to the cultural position they must express within the setting of storyline.
Lewis has made history in the industry before; he previously played Javert in Les Misérables, King Triton in The Little Mermaid, and the title role in Sweeney Todd. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lewis discusses his opinions on whether he believes Broadway is a racist industry. In short, he expresses how categorizing the whole industry as such is simply not possible to do, and additionally, he doesn’t think the majority of existing racism is unintentional.
Despite this “unintentional racism” Lewis refers to, it is still time to grab the bull by its horns and begin casting shows – which aren’t explicitly a certain race – as they should be: by talent and not the color of a person’s skin.