What The Phantom of the Opera’s Open Casting Call Means for Broadway’s Return

When a casting call for Christine Dáae in The Phantom of the Opera was issued earlier this week, the industry took notice of two minor but telling changes. While video submissions are nothing new in the COVID-19 pandemic, few have been expanded to open calls (to include non-Equity performers), and even fewer have been for a Broadway production. In addition, the casting notice states the character can be “Black, Latine, MENASA, API, Indigenous, or white.”

So what’s the big deal? Imagine a line of performers, somehow fresh-faced despite having just gotten off the bus/subway/train to NYC, waiting to sing 16 bars in a tiny room for strangers sitting six feet away. Now send them all back from where they came and give them the chance to audition from their home. That’s essentially what’s happening—the requirements are all the same, but the accessibility pool is much wider.

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Sierra Boggess and Hugh Panaro in The Phantom of the Opera Joan Marcus

On top of saving money and time because of travel, the virtual process “affords the auditionees time to prepare and work on the material at their convenience,” says Peter Van Dam of Tara Rubin Casting, who is heading the search alongside Xavier Rubiano. “Of course, nothing replaces the excitement of hearing someone sing live in a room and getting to know them face to face.”

Broadway productions are required to hold Equity Principal Auditions once a year, and Equity Chorus Calls twice a year. Depending on the project, Tara Rubin Casting tries to hold open calls on a regular basis where anyone, regardless of their union status, is welcome to attend.

While nothing is set in stone, the casting directors hope this open call is a sign of things to come with Broadway’s reopening on the horizon. “One of the most exciting and gratifying aspects of our job is meeting and encouraging young and upcoming performers of all backgrounds. Holding open calls is key to discovering the next generation of artists.”

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Norm Lewis in The Phantom of the Opera Joan Marcus

Responding to the racial injustices that arose in the wake of the pandemic, Broadway leaders have sent indications that the industry will, once the curtain rises, put representation and equity center stage. The next two years on Broadway are already shaping up to be some of the most diverse with several productions written by artists of color. And while The Phantom of the Opera has had a predominantly white cast, the Broadway production has seen more diverse casting more in recent years of its three-decade run, including Norm Lewis as the first Black performer in the title role on Broadway, and Ali Ewoldt being the first Asian-American performer to play Christine.

The language in the casting call (“Black, Latine, MENASA, API, Indigenous, or white”), while not guaranteeing that Broadway’s next Christine will be a woman of color, does indicate the industry’s steps toward a more actively equitable landscape. “We have to come to realize that stating ‘all ethnicities’ is not deliberate enough,” Van Dam says. “By spelling it out, we hope that performers who might not have thought they were right for a particular role can see that they will be seriously considered. We hope this specificity conveys our desire to cast Christine from an excitingly diverse group of candidates.”

The casting call requires candidates to send a video of themselves singing “Think of Me” from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (a requirement that Van Dam and Rubiano say is new—artists can usually select a song of their choice not from the show). The body of the email must include name, height, current location, contact info, photo, and resume. Send the video via a non-expiring downloadable link to PhantomBroadwayCasting@gmail.com with “SUBMISSION – YOUR LAST NAME” in the subject line by April 5, 2021.

Sheet music and accompaniment tracks are available here. Start rehearsing those cadenzas now.