'Phantom of the Opera' makes history with 1st Black leading actress after 34 years on Broadway

Josh Einiger Image
Thursday, January 27, 2022
'Phantom of the Opera' makes history with 1st Black leading actress
"The Phantom of the Opera" made history by marking 34 years on Broadway and casting its first Black leading actress, Emilie Kouatchou. Josh Einiger has more.

TIMES SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Broadway's longest running show made history on the anniversary of its opening in New York City.

Wednesday night marked 34 years since "The Phantom of the Opera" first opened back in 1988.

And for the first time, a Black actor took over the female leading role of Christine.

Theatergoers lined up in the bitter cold, showed their vaccine cards and went through security to see an old favorite -- that through it all, has survived.

Ben Crawford is the 16th actor to play the Phantom. He was there in March 2020 when the curtain dropped because of COVID.

Broadway went dark and no one knew if live theater would ever recover.

But a year and half later, the show's famed chandelier rose again.

And all through the omicron surge, as other shows were canceled, "Phantom" didn't miss a single performance.

"We're so grateful the show's been around for 34 years," Crawford said. "Because when people were getting sick, we were able to call up people from the past and bring them in and have them stay for 10 days, while people were quarantined and isolated so we could keep the show going."

And Broadway's longest running production made more history when, for the first time, a Black actor, Emilie Kouatchou, played the female lead opposite Crawford.

"After everything that Broadway's been through, the country, we need these milestones, I think collectively as a society of reminding people the strength of art and the strength of theater," Crawford said.

Thirty-four isn't the kind of number normally associate with a milestone, but in this business, at this time, 34 years is a lifetime. And a celebration of survival for the anchor of Broadway.

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