Norm Lewis, better known to “Scandal” fans as Senator Edison Davis, will be the first black actor to play the title role of “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Lewis told the Associated Press. “The idea of doing something that I’ve always wanted to do and it coming to fruition is amazing,”
Lewis recently starred with Audra McDonald in a new adaptation of “Porgy and Bess,” the Gershwin folk opera famous for its beautiful, soaring music which marries arias —traditionally associated with opera — with blues, work songs and spirituals.
However, “Porgy and Bess” has historically faced difficulties because of the anxieties it triggered about the way black people were depicted in the original libretto. Writer Suzan-Lori Parks and musical adapter Deidre Murray’s reinterpretation helped net “Porgy and Bess” a Tony in 2012 for Best Revival of a Musical.
The Tony-nominated actor’s casting in “Phantom” was huge news for a community that’s still fighting for visibility on the Great White Way, and Lewis himself is aware of the significance of winning the role. Despite strides in diversity, marked especially by last year’s Tony awards, high-profile roles for black men on Broadway, particularly in shows that don’t feature a majority-black cast, are scarce. Lewis lists “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and “Sondheim on Sondheim” among his credits.
“These young, black men from high school and college, they come up to me saying, ‘You’re the reason I’m singing,'” Lewis told the Orlando Sentinel. “I felt that way about Ben Vereen and Andre DeShields.”
Lewis is co-producing a one-night show at Carnegie Hall called “The Black Stars of the Great White Way Broadway Reunion,” to be performed in June. The all-male tribute will feature the music of Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson, while honoring dancer and choreographer Geoffrey Holder, Brothers Johnson bassist Louis Johnson, producer Stephen Byrd and orchestrator Harold Wheeler.
“We never celebrate men — of any color — in the theater,” Lewis told the Sentinel. “It’s always the divas!”
Here’s a clip of Lewis and McDonald singing “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” from “Porgy and Bess.”