This Black History Month, 2nd Star is celebrating Black performers who broke barriers as the first people of color to play iconic roles, from Beauty and the Beast to Wicked.
Brittney Johnson is the first Black woman to play Galinda/Glinda in Wicked. She made her debut in 2019.
The first Black Elphaba, Alexia Khadime, debuted in 2008.
Wicked opened in 2003.
Norm Lewis was lauded as the first Black man to play the Phantom of the Opera, but he was the first on Broadway. The very first was Robert Guillaume, who took over the role in a 1990 production based in Los Angeles. They remain the only black performers to play any lead in the show, which opened in 1988.
Toni Braxton was the first Black woman to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She took on the role in 1998, four years after the show originally opened. The song “A Change in Me” was added just for her, and has been included in every production since.
Though Les Misérables opened in 1987, it didn’t feature a Black actor as Jean Valjean until 2015. Kyle Jean-Baptiste took on the role at the age of 21, while understudying for Ramin Karimloo. (We believe the first Black actor to play Javert was Norm Lewis in 2006, but haven’t found a definitive source.)
We know Broadway and most professional theatre are on hiatus due to the pandemic, but we’re hoping to see more Black performers given the chance to take on leads in these long-running, iconic productions.