It’s not surprising that The Phantom of the Opera is Broadway’s longest running musical, with its stunning score and epic love story. But it is pretty shocking that in the 25 years that the show has entertained audiences, there has never been a woman of color cast in the lead role of Christine Daaé, a young soprano caught in a love triangle between the Phantom and her childhood sweetheart, Raoul.
Well, all of that recently changed when Filipino actress Ali Ewoldt made her standing O-worthy debut in the production a little over a month ago, inspiring young women of all backgrounds that they, too, can make their mark on the Great White Way. “It was so exciting to be cast in the role—period. But to have this honor on top of it is pretty incredible,” Ewoldt tells InStyle.
Beyond her own curtain call, the star hopes that her casting will help open doors for diversity within the industry. “It feels much bigger than me getting to play a dream part,” she says. “It’s really about opening up opportunities for other people, too. And there is a great responsibility that comes with that. I want to make sure that I am doing the best job that I can every night when I’m telling the story.”
Ewoldt, whose first role on Broadway was playing Cosette in the revival of Les Misérables, is already seeing the effect that her Phantom part has had on young fans. “I’ve been approached by a lot of girls outside the stage door who have said, ‘I never thought that this would be possible, but now that you’re doing it, I think that I can, too.’ That’s huge for me,” she adds.
And it’s those post-performance interactions that makes Ewoldt think back to her own watershed moment at the theater. “When I was a kid, I remember seeing Tony-winning Filipino actress Lea Solonga playing Éponine in Les Misérables. I knew that she had this great part that didn’t necessarily have to be played by an Asian actress and it meant so much to me,” she says. “And I’m sure I waited outside to get her autograph, too!”
Now that she has nabbed the coveted role, which includes six performances a week, Ewoldt is settling in at the storied Majestic Theatre. Her first task? Getting her dressing room in order. “I’m still in the process of finding different furniture pieces and I just ordered new curtains to spruce it up,” she says. “So far, I put up a great framed photograph of when I met [famed Broadway director] Hal Prince and different keepsakes that I’ve been given by cast members over the years. From my time in The King and I, I have this beautiful bell that Ken Watanabe brought back from Thailand. You’re supposed to ring the bell when something good happens and the goodness is said to multiply. And then, of course, I have a humidifier and a great makeup organizer in there, too.”
When it comes to her stage makeup, she does it herself for every performance, following a guide that shows precisely where to put different colors and contours. “The makeup look is one that could’ve been worn back in the time that the story is set [late 1800s], so there is a lot of purple and pink eye shadow and fake eyelashes,” she says. “Most of it is from MAC. I’ve been using the MAC primer spray ($22; nordstrom.com) on my face, too, which is really awesome.”
Ewoldt has also recently mastered the art of the quick change, swapping some ten costumes throughout the show. “I only get up to my dressing room during intermission, so I do all of my changes on the side of the stage,” she says. “I probably have three to four people helping me get out of one dress and into the other dress at one time and they also fix my hair. A few changes also happen on stage, which is pretty tricky since other actors have to help me.”
Her favorite costume is the masquerade dress (below). “It’s pink and purple and blue and sparkly— and it has a tutu skirt that is fun to twirl around in,” she says. “The wedding dress at the end is very heavy, but there is something gorgeous in the simplicity of it,” she adds. “I can’t back up in it though because it has a bustle and a train, so there’s a lot of maneuvering that has to happen. It makes me feel grateful that I live in modern times where that’s not my reality!”
Ewoldt’s reality might not include beaded ball gowns, but she does relate to her character Christine on other levels. “I connect to her because she is a woman trapped in a world that doesn’t give her a lot of options, but somehow she finds her way through and finds her power. One of my first songs is “Think of Me,” which is essentially a young dancer getting to play her dream role in an opera. For me, that journey is a really exciting thing to tap into.”
To see Ewoldt in her groundbreaking role in The Phantom of the Opera, visit telecharge.com.