Ali Ewoldt, Phantom’s First Asian-American Leading LadyMay 19, 2017 - by Meryl Pearlstein
The half-mask, the chandelier, the powerful organ refrain—“Phans” of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stirring classic, The Phantom of the Opera, know these iconic elements well. And as the musical approaches its 30th anniversary next January, it remains as vibrant as ever for Broadway cognoscenti…and those who want to be. (Just listen to the murmurs from the audience at the first strains of “Think of Me” and “Angel of Music.”)
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The opening production, headlined by Michael Crawford, as the masked loner who haunts the Paris Opera House, and his objet d’amour, played by Webber’s then-real-life wife Sarah Brightman, was the talk of the Great White Way in 1988. The musical’s vocals, songs, set, and “beauty and the beast” drama captivated audiences, eliciting visceral responses of both empathy and revulsion that lasted until the final curtain.
Broadway’s longest running show, over the years Phantom has welcomed such leading men as Howard McGillin (the show’s longest-running Phantom), Norm Lewis (Broadway’s first African-American Phantom), and current star James Barbour, who has embodied the title role since 2015. The show’s roster of female stars has included Olivier Award nominee Sierra Boggess and Tony nominee Rebecca Luker.
Playing the beautiful ingénue Christine Daaé today is Ali Ewoldt, the first Asian-American actress to assume the role. Thrilling in her lithe appearance and silky multi-textured soprano, Ewoldt adds freshness and spirit to this timeless role. “I feel, in many ways, that I was born to play Christine,” she says. “I first saw the play when I was 10 years old—my Dad told me that the Phantom might come join us if we sat in Box 5—and I grew up rehearsing the part of Christine for many years. It’s a role I felt I could make my own.”
Ewoldt is no stranger to Broadway, with a resume that covers the revival of Les Misérables (Cosette) and the recent staging of The King and I at Lincoln Center. “I took voice lessons and starred in musicals as a child, and I kept performing throughout my years at Yale University where I was studying psychology,” she notes, adding, “I knew I had to give musical theatre a try when I graduated. It was a dream to land a part on Broadway.”
Half Filipina, Ewoldt has long admired fellow Filipina actress Lea Salonga (the first woman of Asian descent to win a Tony, for playing Kim in the original production of Miss Saigon). And from letters and comments at the stage door, she knows that she has a great responsibility when it comes to empowering women, especially minorities. “I’m living proof that you can do whatever you want and you can play any role on the stage if you choose theater as a career,” she says.
Will she stay on as Christine, the part she’s played since June 2016, as Phantom cements itself as a play for the ages? “Absolutely. I’m still a relative newbie in the cast, and I love my role. I see people returning again and again to absorb the music, the spectacle, and the passion of the story—they’re local fans as well as tourists from every country. I’m thrilled to be in Phantom and to share our mutual love for this magical Victorian melodrama.”
The Phans are thrilled, too.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre, its home since 1988, at 247 W. 44th St. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250 or visit thephantomoftheopera.com.