Emilie Kouatchou is the first Black Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. For months she was permorning the role only three times a week, but she recently got the role as the principal player. Yes, Emilie is Christine six times a week at the following performances: Weds. 7pm, Thurs. 1pm and 7pm, Fri. at 7pm, Sat. at 7pm, and Sun. at 5pm.
About this role, the superbly talented actress shared, “It just makes me feel like, ‘I can do this!’ I’ve been inspired by countless other Black soprano women—like Audra McDonald, Heather Headley and Patina Miller—people I grew up watching. Maybe, in some way, me being the first Black Christine will help someone else build up the confidence and say ‘I can do this too,’ and they can go on and do more amazing things. I like to look at the bigger picture that way. It’s so much bigger. I’m really grateful that I get to carry a legacy.”
Recalling how she got this opportunity, Kouatchou said, “Phantom had a wide cattle-call for a Christine, they specifically put in for Christines of color. I had been in to audition a couple of times before. So, the team already knew me. I got to sing, had a couple of call backs and I found out in August that I got the part. I auditioned in May. I had been preparing, hoping, wishing and a lot of waiting. I knew that they liked me.”
Kouatchou is making history in the longest running show in Broadway history. She was happy to say, “It’s exciting. Phantom is this piece that has been here so long, it’s well respected and loved. It’s the reason that people come to New York. It’s really exciting that I can step into this really old and timeless show. There are people in the building who have been working on the show for 30+ years and so I’m learning from them.”
Phantom has a special place in Kouatchou’s heart, as she shared, “It was the first show I saw on Broadway, when I was on a high school drama club trip. We were in the nosebleed seats. Then I watched the 25th Anniversary and that’s my main past memory of Phantom.
To prepare for the role, Kouatchou recalled, “I learned the music, which was the bulk of it. Blocking it was new for me. I’d never been in a situation where this was a long-running show, so everybody knew what worked for my character. So, it was very directorial in that way. I get to the theater an hour and a half before the show and do my makeup slowly and get relaxed. I had voice lessons during most of my audition process. Part of my prep for the show involved mental and emotional preparedness. It’s the kind of show, where when it starts it’s a steamroller. I have to get into the proper mindset. Christine goes through this transformation. Young and naïve and then she’s a vibrant and roaring woman. She goes through highs and lows during the show.”
Sharing what she feels when she’s on that stage, the gifted young woman explained, “I try to stay in the moment and think what is Christine thinking at this moment? What’s going on in her mind when everyone is talking about her in the second manager’s scene? How does the Phantom make her feel in the first scene? Is she attracted to him? I try to keep things fresh. I think to change my intentions or my action verbs, I might be a little more terrified of him, a little more attracted to him. Being the first Black Christine is an honor. I feel it’s a long time coming. I’m thankful that it’s me. I sometimes forget the magnitude that’s happening and my role. The song ‘Think of Me,’ is Christine’s star turn. It really was my first moment–it felt like Emilie’s first moment and that was really overwhelming.”
Kouatchou, a University of Michigan graduate in Musical Theatre, grew up in Palatine, Illinois and she recalls that she thought she was going to be a doctor. “My Mom was a doctor, my Dad a Businessman. They were from Cameroon and grew up with the mindset to be successful you have to be a doctor or an engineer. I caught the theater bug when I started doing theater at the age of 9 at a community theater. Then I was part of a summer theater intensive in Illinois from my High School and I told my parents I wanted to do this. It is not easy being an artist and an actor in New York. I took myself to auditions. I was determined to make this happen and I did. When I first come out on stage it’s terrifying, after a couple of minutes, it’s okay. I was super shy as a kid and I still am, but it’s really exciting. Being vulnerable for a ton of people, it’s like sadistic, but I love it.”
Kouatchou’s vocal instrument is absolutely lovely and she is opening a door for others to walk through. She humbly advises those who follow her to “Be yourself and be unapologetic, don’t minimize yourself. Don’t think you have to fit into any sort of box. What you bring to a role is unique and special. You don’t have to copy anyone else. The biggest thing that people can take away from all of this is that you as yourself is enough. You’re an individual, stay grounded in that.”
For more info, visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com.