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article imageA conversation with groundbreaking Broadway star Norm Lewis Special

By Adrian Peel     Feb 12, 2016 in Entertainment
The Tony nominated actor and singer — the first African American to play the title role in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway — has a number of projects on the go at the present time. He talked to Digital Journal.
Born and raised in Florida, Norm Lewis has been a familiar face in the heart of New York's Theatreland for a number of years now. As well as starring in many stage productions, the 52 year old has also acted in films, released a solo album of standards (This is the Life!) and found work as a producer.
Currently, this man of many talents is appearing in a short run of Cabin in the Sky at the New York City Centre and on Monday, February 15, he will be participating in Inspirational Broadway at B.B. King’s to help raise money for the Broadway Inspirational Voice’s Outreach Program, a program that provides help and inspiration to children from deprived communities. I started by asking him about the latter.
"I'm part of the Broadway Inspirational Voices and have been since around 1996," he explains, "so anything I can do to help out with the cause, I'm going to do. I'll be singing a song called 'If I Ruled the World,' which is one of the songs I normally sing in my show."
Discussing Cabin in the Sky, which began on Wednesday night and runs until Sunday, the stage veteran (he received his first acting credits over 20 years ago) states, "That's part of the Encore! series. Before I got it, I only knew it as a movie - I didn't know it was a Broadway show back in the 1940s.
"I'm playing what they call 'the Lord's General,' so I'm not quite an archangel, but I'm a very high ranking general in God's army. I think we have two shows on Saturday and two on Sunday..."
Norm's first - and to date only - solo album, This is the Life!, was released to much acclaim in 2008. Has he continued to work on his career away from the bright lights of Broadway?
"Yeah, I've been doing a lot of concerts around the country - around the world, actually. Sweden and Asia and a lot of cities around the United States... I've been doing some television, a couple of film things - just trying to keep busy. Got to make the money so I can pay for it all!"
I brought up the subject of Mr. Lewis being the first black actor to portray the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. "Well for me, it was just a lifelong dream to be a part of that show," he admits, "whether it be the Phantom or just being in the ensemble - but luckily it was the Phantom.
"Being dubbed the first black to do it, what I realised was it was bigger than me. It was an opportunity to open that door for many people of colour. I had a lot of people at the stage door - Asian, Hispanic, East Indian - who came up to me and said, 'You now have given me hope that I can do this.'
"The idea had been there. Robert Guillaume was the first African American to play the role in Los Angeles, but I just happened to be the first one on Broadway. Being that visible and people paying that much attention to me having that role, it was making a statement."
When asked if he misses being a regular on a big Broadway show, the friendly entertainer, whose sole Tony nomination to date was for Porgy and Bess in 2012, muses, "If it's the right project, yes.
"I do love this medium. It is a very disciplined medium, so sometimes that eight shows a week is a little daunting... But I love this community of people and I love being around it, so I'm hoping to get back sometime soon."
For more on Norm Lewis, visit his official website.
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