With each performance Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera sets the record for longest-running Broadway show in history (it will cross 11,000 performances by the end of July), and the Phantom website boasts that more than 130 million people have seen a version of the musical in its various productions all over the world. Because Phantom is now regarded as a Broadway institution and continues to do excellent business, it probably seems to most Broadway fans that Phantom — which has run longer than many fans of it have been alive — has done just about everything it possibly can to pack the house.
However, two recent major casting changes of the two leads have each been celebrated as a mixture of both classic and groundbreaking. Starting in May the lead role of Christine has been played in most performances by Sierra Boggess and the Phantom has been played by Norm Lewis.
Though only thirty-two, Boggess has a long history with Phantom of the Opera. In 2006 she originated the role of Christine in the Las Vegas production of Phantom, and later originated the role of Christine again in the West End production of Phantom‘s sequel, Love Never Dies. She returned to playing Christine in Phantom for the 25th anniversary concert in London in October 2011, and two years later finally played Christine on Broadway for a six-week engagement in early 2013. Just over a year later she rejoined the Broadway production, where she will be for the foreseeable future. Despite the musical’s enduring popularity all over the world, there are few actresses worldwide who have had as much experience performing as Christine as Boggess.
Since Boggess’ May re-debut in the role her experience has been paired with Lewis, who is the first African American to appear as the Phantom in the Broadway production. Lewis has an even more extensive background on Broadway as Boggess, and has a history of playing roles that are traditionally cast with white actors (Javert in Les Miserables, Billy Flynn in Chicago). He received a Tony nomination for his lead role in 2012’s acclaimed The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and previously co-starred with Boggess in The Little Mermaid (she played the title character while Lewis played King Triton). It marks a personal triumph for Lewis, who told Playbill it was his lifelong dream to play the Phantom.
As a result, audiences attending Phantom this summer will see two of Broadway’s best current performers in the lead roles, something that is rare for any long-running musical, let alone one that is the all-time longest-running.