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First African American stars as ‘Phantom’

Colette Greenstein | 9/13/2017, 1:14 p.m.
Derrick Davis, who studied opera in college, is the first African American to play the legendary character on tour, and ...
Derrick Davis courtesy of Broadway In Boston

I’m sure that you’ve been asked this question numerous times, but I do think it’s important to ask again. You’re the third African American actor to play the Phantom. What does it mean to you to step into this role after Robert Guillaume and Norm Lewis?

DD: It is such an honor to be named after those two men in particular because the history that they’ve created for black men in the arts is literally legendary. It makes me very happy that this company is not giving up on giving people of color an opportunity to play the role, but they’re actually ramping up their aggression in it. I’m not the only person of color in this show. Ubaldo Piangi (played by Phumzile Sojola) is also a man of color and he’s absolutely brilliant. His voice is insane. It also makes me happy because the march forward in musical theater in general is being exemplified in roles like mine, in shows like, of course, “The Lion King” and “Hamilton” as of late, and so many other shows. I just can’t wait for the day when it won’t matter anymore, where it won’t be something special that somebody of color is playing a role, but that it will just matter that somebody of excellence is playing the role.

What would you say to any young performer who wants to go down this path, whether it’s theater, film or television, about one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned?

DD: Put one foot in front of the other and every day do better than you did the day before. If you’re moving in a forward direction then you’re going to get closer and closer and closer to your goal. Don’t be afraid of changes in your heart’s direction, because sometimes you think you want one thing, and then halfway down that journey you realize, “Oh my gosh, that was me being equal to realizing that I want this instead.” Just keep moving forward. Keep moving forward and trust your heart.

What do you hope that audiences take away when they come and see the show?

DD: I hope when audiences come to see the show, that either consciously or subconsciously, they have a cathartic experience and just escape. What’s strange, what feels like an escape from reality, really allows them to process through some things in their heart. It’s surprising how that happens with this show in particular, but it really does.