You could call George Lee Andrews the marathon man of the Broadway stage, but Saturday is his last lap around the track.
After a remarkable 23 years (and 12 lead actors) acting in Broadway’s longest-running musical Phantom of the Opera, Andrews was told by the play’s producers last May that his six month contract — which had been reviewed over forty times — would not be renewed again. This news was not made public until this past Tuesday, which meant Saturday’s performance — Andrews’ 9,382 — would be his last in the show. Though Andrews has occasionally taken time off from the show, he has been in the cast ever since the show opened on Broadway in 1988.
According to the detailed article in The New York Times, producer Cameron Mackintosh informed the 68 year-old Andrews that his contract would not be renewed because of “the need for new blood to strengthen Phantom for an indefinite commercial run.”
Phantom is not only Broadway’s current longest running show, but it’s the longest running show in the history of Broadway and is expected to keep running well through its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2013. By then the show will have logged over an unprecedented 10,000 performances. Though Andrews seems disappointed, he doesn’t view his unanticipated exit as a wholly negative thing. He says, “I decided pretty quickly that dwelling on the producers’ decision didn’t make any sense, given how much happiness Phantom has given me. I’m a live theater animal. What other show in history could ever give me so much opportunity?” Andrews has played several different roles in the show — he originally played Don Attilio and has been recently been in the role of Monsieur André — but had no issue with the switching. He explains, “Every role is important to a show. I never was the kind of person who thought, ‘I must play such and such a role, I deserve a role.’”
Nonetheless, Andrews does take pride in who will be replacing him in the role of Monsieur André: Aaron Galligan-Stierle, who happens to be Andrews’ son-in-law. Looking at the positive side, Andrews commented on his replacement, saying, “If I have to give up my role, giving it up to my son-in-law is not a bad way to go. I’ll be heading out on auditions soon enough, but I’ll still be going back to Phantom, this time to see Aaron as André.”
Of course, I doubt that Andrews will have to go on many auditions before landing another role on Broadway — he’s been appearing on the Broadway stage since his debut in A Little Night Music in 1973.