Broadway’s longest-running musical took a significant, if long overdue, step toward diversifying its cast this week in conjunction with its 34th anniversary.
On Wednesday, actor Emilie Kouatchou will take over the lead role of Christine Daaé in “The Phantom of the Opera,” becoming the first Black actor in history to do so on Broadway.
A Chicago native, Kouatchou joined the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical last fall as an alternate for actor Meghan Picerno. Starting this week, she’ll be a full-time cast member alongside Ben Crawford as the Phantom and John Riddle as Raoul de Chagny.
The show’s producers commemorated the milestone by releasing new production photos as well as a short trailer previewing Kouatchou’s performance. (Catch the trailer above.)
Based on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel, “The Phantom of the Opera” premiered on Broadway on Jan. 26, 1988, starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. The original production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Speaking to People last month, Kouatchou said she considered switching careers during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Broadway theaters and other performance venues were closed for about 18 months.
Though happy to be making Broadway history, she stressed that she was “frustrated” it had taken so long for the producers of “Phantom of the Opera” to cast a Black leading lady.
“I just think that Black women, especially in theater, have to be — and it shouldn’t be this way — 10 times better and work 10 times harder,” she said. “It took this long for any Black woman to play Christine, but there have been so many talented Black women who could have.”
Kouatchou’s casting comes about a month after Brittney Johnson became the first Black actor to assume the role of Glinda in “Wicked.”
Recent discourse, however, has brought a longstanding lack of diversity, both on- and offstage, in New York’s theater industry to light. Though shows like “Hamilton” are known for diverse casting, others have faced criticism for failing to provide opportunities for people of color.