Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” made a triumphant return to Milwaukee on March 7 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts as part of a brand new North American tour.

Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of the phenomenal musical has been hailed by critics as “bigger and better than ever before,” with a production boasting exciting new special effects, lighting designs, staging, and choreography.

Inspired by the 1911 classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera musical opened on London’s West End in 1986, and on Broadway in 1988. It overtook Cats to become the longest running show in Broadway history, stretching over 30 years and celebrating its 10,000th Broadway performance in 2012.

The Marcus Center offered a look inside the production, and a chance to speak with the man behind the mask, Quentin Oliver Lee as the Phantom. It was not a role that Lee dreamed about while growing up. And he did not think it was possible for a man of color to play the iconic character until Lee saw Norm Lewis perform on Broadway. Lewis was the first black actor to star in the lead role.

“It’s been overwhelming to be in a show that gets a standing ovation literally every night. That’s very rewarding, but it’s not why I do it,” said Lee. “The show has been so well-received by audiences that it’s great to be part of the legacy of the role and of the show.”

With his role as the Phantom, Lee joined a growing list of people of color who are proving that there is a space for them on Broadway. Lee credits his parents with keeping him grounded as he has pursued a career in the performing arts.

“My mother was always incredibly supportive of anything I did, and she’s been a rock in holding me up when I didn’t think I could do it,” Lee added. “My father was more pragmatist, asking the harder questions like ‘How do you make a living? And what are you gonna do if things don’t pan out?’”

The Phantom of the Opera has legions of fans who know every line of dialogue, every note in the score, and all about every character’s back-story. Lee has tried to embrace their fervor when becoming his character, and focusing that energy into the musical in order to bring a new level of emotion to life onstage.

“It’s a musical that’s been around now for 30 years, so I’ve always been aware of it. In college, especially as a major in opera performance, all people talked about was The Phantom and how much they loved the character and the show’s music.”

The Milwaukee performance of the The Phantom of the Opera runs until March 17. These images are a combination of production stills and candid pictures taken during the press conference.

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Lee Matz and Matthew Murphy