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Arts and Entertainment

‘Phantom of The Opera’ leading man took leap of faith to land dream role
Quentin Lee second African American in top spot
Published Wednesday, January 10, 2018 7:20 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Quentin Oliver Lee takes over for Derrick Davis, above with Eva Tavares in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic “The Phantom of the Opera” Jan. 17-28 at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts.

Don’t move to New York with only $500 to your name, unless you’re opera singer Quentin Oliver Lee.

Then anything is possible.

“I graduated [college] in 2012, and moved to the big city, and was all ‘oh I’m going to make it big,’ all starry-eyed and doe-eyed performer,” Lee said. “It’s kind of funny, because believe it or not, and I would not recommend this to anybody. When I moved to the city, I had like $500. I didn’t have very much of anything. That will get you about a week. Two weeks if you stretch it. A month if you’re really good.”

Lee sang in the subway to fund the experience.

“I ended up singing in the subways—no joke,” Lee said. “I sort of got lucky or got blessed with an opportunity to sing with this group, Opera Collective. This guy heard me singing in the subway, which led to an audition for ‘Porgy and Bess,’ which also came through Charlotte. I fortuitously happened to play [Porgy].”

While he may be the masked man in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” now, Lee’s first attempt at becoming part of the show did not go well.

“Fast-forward about two years, and I’m auditioning again, and this time I have a little bit more saved up,” Lee said. “I audition for ‘Phantom,’ and it goes terribly, and then I moved to Hong Kong. Fast-forward about 15-16 months, and I’m working on a show called ‘Prince of Broadway,’ that’s about Hal Prince, who directed the original ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ So I’m working with Hal Prince. I’m working with a bunch of the people who are currently in ‘Phantom’ on Broadway, and then I get an audition for the tour right as ‘Prince of Broadway’ is closing on Broadway. Now I’m here.”

Lee succeeds Derrick Davis, the first black performer to portray the iconic role on tour, which heads to Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Jan. 17-28.  

While Lee studied opera at Northern Arizona University, the Southern California native’s casting in “Phantom of the Opera” is almost ironic.

“Most opera singers have this unreasonable bias against ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” he said. “When you say that you’re an opera singer, they say ‘Oh, I know ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” you’re like ‘ugh, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is not [an opera].’”

The distinction didn’t stop Lee’s interest in the production when he went to see it on Broadway for his birthday.

“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Lee said. “This is definitely an opera in a way—it’s certainly a musical, but there’s a lot in it—I’m not saying that very poetically. I was floored by it. It was very magical.”

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