New York City is rejoicing! After major pandemic related setbacks, Broadway is back. And with strong attempts made to diversify its full time casts, there is additional reason to celebrate. Broadway’s longest running musical, ‘Phantom of The Opera’ has debuted its first Black actress to play the lead role of Christine Daaé.
Last Wednesday, actor Emilie Kouatchou took over the role after joining the cast as an alternate last fall for actress Meghan Picerno. She will join Ben Crawford as the Phantom and John Riddle as Raoul de Chagny.
The play, based upon the classic novel written by Gaston Leroux, has been a broadway staple since its premier in 1988. The original production won 7 Tony awards, including best musical.
During the height of the COVID-19 closures when Broadway went dark, Kouatchou actually considered a career change. Though she is happy to be back to work, (and to be making history), she told People that she was “frustrated” by how long it’s taken producers to cast a Black lead in ‘Phantom’.
“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 told People in December. “It took this long for any Black woman to play Christine, but there have been so many talented Black women who could have.”
Her full time placement comes on the heels of Brittney Johnson being cast as the first Black Glinda in popular play, “Wicked”.
“I only had a few people who I feel like I could look up to when I was starting this journey, and it’s still a little surreal for me when people send me messages and write me letters saying that I am the reason why they feel like they can pursue their dream, that I am the person that they are looking up to,” she told People. “It feels like an awesome responsibility and one that I am grateful for.”
While some Broadway shows like Hamilton are built with the bones of diversity, many other productions have come under scrutiny for failing to provide opportunities for people of color. We’re happy to finally see them stepping, singing and swinging in the right direction.