By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – I would have to quote directly my colleague Asian Journal editor Momar Visaya for the peg of this reportage. Filipino-American Broadway actress Ali Ewoldt, lead star of the Phantom of the Opera, was amazing. “She owned the stage and her voice was soaring. It is the perfect role for her.”
Visaya has followed Ewoldt’s career since she starred in Les Miserables as Cosette years ago. Filipinos are particularly proud and cheered Ewoldt for having landed the lead role of Christine Daae for The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running show on Broadway.
On June 13, the world-renowned production of Cameron Macintosh welcomed the new actors in their principal roles.
The petite and sweet Ewoldt have always loved Christine since she saw the premiere of Phantom in New York when she was so much younger. She silently wished she would play that role. “I auditioned for the role for the last 10 years,” she quipped.
Ewoldt succeeded Julia Udine and is the first actress of color to play Christine on Broadway. Jordan Donica (Jesus Christ Superstar, Dames at Sea and South Pacific) debuted as Raoul, succeeding long-time cast member Jeremy Hays. He is also making history, being the first African-American to play the role of Raoul on Broadway.
They have taken to storm the first week of their performance. Early on, Broadway producer Jhett Tolentino facilitated a Question – and – Answer forum for the audience.
Businesswoman Jaji Hagelgens remarked that it was a beautiful performance. “Actually, I didn’t know that Ali was Fil-Am till during the Q&A so my impression of her was not tainted, not biased. I love her voice. And I didn’t fall asleep. I’m notoriously known to have taken a nap even in James Bond movies.”
Phantom, which plays at the Majestic Theatre, has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) and a book by Richard Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber. The musical has production design by the late Maria Björnson, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound design by Mick Potter with original sound by Martin Levan. Musical staging and choreography are by Gillian Lynne. Orchestrations are by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Phantom is 25 years old on stage, with Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton as pioneering actors.
In the recently concluded workshop session of the Filipino American National Historical Society at John Jay College, Ewoldt shared that persistence was key in finally getting the role of Christine. She told a young crowd that she had auditioned for about 10 years with the Phantom. She was in a panel of Filipino Broadway stars and artists who shared their experiences in working in the professional theater of New York.
Ewoldt said that she never thought of getting the role in her latest audition. “When you hear words like thank you so much, you sound great, that’s all we need to hear. That is the kiss of death,” she told the audience in jest.
After about two weeks, her agent called her saying she was in to play Christine, the role she has always loved.
Growing Up Appreciating Arts
Ewoldt was born in Chicago to an American father and Filipino mom. When she was three years old, her family moved to Pleasantville in New York. She beamed recalling how school productions were such a big thing in Pleasantville that made her love and enjoy the stage. Her mom Leah is fiercely supportive of her love for music and performing.
My first encounter with Ms. Ewoldt was in 2013, just before she would perform an intimate concert produced by the Broadway Barkada. In that interview, she was hats off for her mother who encouraged her to pursue her love for music and acting.
At the FANHS workshop, she was still all praises for her mom and her entire family.
“I grew up with the amazing appreciation for the arts at school and my mom and dad. My aunts took me to shows on Broadway. I was introduced to the making of Ms. Saigon with Lea Salonga. I watched the New York premiere of the Phantom.” She was upbeat in her recollection.
Ewoldt finished Psychology in Yale University, only because it was the “easiest course” to balance performing with full academics. She said laughing with the audience.
After watching the FANHS video of Ewoldt, I knew it was time for me to watch the Phantom again. (Photos by FANHS and Mr. Matthew Murphy)