Lucy St. Louis on making history in 'Phantom' and the importance of representation
You could say that Lucy St. Louis manifested playing Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. Since she was a little girl, she trained in ballet and was taught how to sing by an opera teacher. Now, St. Louis achieves a lifelong dream as the latest actress to play Christine Daaé.
However, even though she’s making history in the role as the first Black actress to play the famous ingenue, she doesn’t want her Christine to be defined by race.
“It should just be Lucy St. Louis playing Christine Daae,” St. Louis told London Theatre. “But because it’s never happened, it is a bigger deal and this is why it is so important for change. We, as Black women, deserve to be in these positions just as much.
Now, after years of auditions and making it to the final rounds, St. Louis is finally in the role she was destined to play.
We spoke to St. Louis about what it means to play a dream role, as well as changes needed in representation both on and off stage.
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Playing Christine in a newly reconfigured Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre almost feels as if the show is starting again. What changes have been made to the production and your role specifically?
For a show that has been running nearly 35 years, you have to keep that energy in it and that is something that we’ve been able to do, and been so grateful to do because of the pandemic. We’ve been able to look at ourselves as an industry and ask what is important to us? And we love telling this story. When we come back, we’re gonna tell it bigger and better than ever.
In terms of Christine as a character, we have given her the strength of a 21st-century woman. That is something that I believe is so important to see. Women are so strong and so powerful, and we can rule the world. In a way, this story has now shown that with strength and compassion, love will conquer all. It’s not through fear, or manipulation, but it’s through kindness and love and trying to understand someone and looking on a deeper level.
It’s something that’s been so wonderful to be able to help pump into Christine and give her a new outlook and energy on life to not feel like the damsel in distress. Christine can save herself, with or without the Phantom. The love is still what carries them through, but it’s without losing her inner strength. It’s something that’s very important to see on stage, women being empowered and taking control over situations.
Was Christine always a dream role when you were younger?
Yeah. I always wanted to play Christine. It had been the biggest dream of mine vocally and in terms of the show, I love it. Who doesn’t?
It was a dream that I never necessarily believed was possible, and I just worked so hard and hoped “one day” and put it out into the universe. It didn’t have to happen to me, but for someone that looked like me, who I could then aspire to be like and know that I could be in that position too. This moment for me is so special, to be a woman of colour, a Black woman especially in this role.
Had you auditioned for the role previously?
Yes, it had been a couple of processes and being in the finals a few times for different productions of Phantom. This moment I think, especially after the pandemic, really hit hard and made people look a little bit closer into our industry and what we wanted to represent and what we needed to do moving forward.
What does it mean to you to be the first Black actor to play this role in the West End?
Gosh, it is the biggest honour of my career and something I don’t take lightly. I know that this is a very important moment for so many women, and it’s something which shines hope, inclusivity, and possibility. It’s something I hope is a beacon of light to so many other women to go “you can see yourself here, so you can be here.” You need to see the diversity that our world is because you need to see that you can be there.
I’m very grateful to be in this position and just hope that it inspires future generations and my peers around me who are in this industry.
Prior to starring in Phantom, you’ve primarily played Black characters, like Diana Ross in Motown. How does it feel to be stepping into a role where the character’s race is not defined?
That’s a very good question! In terms of playing fictional roles which depict history, I believe that it could be anyone. You could have anyone play the role; this is the beauty of theatre. We break those boundaries. If we’re not opening our doors to everyone, then what are we showing? We should be leading the way of change and visually giving that to our audiences.
You’ve got Miriam-Teak Lee in & Juliet and Danielle Fiamanya covering the role of Elsa in Frozen, so that change is beginning to happen now!
Exactly, and it should just be women being celebrated rather than the skin colour. Because of the journey it’s taken to get here, we can’t deny the celebration of women making change and this is why it’s so important to acknowledge it.
We can’t live ignorantly. We’ve got to open our eyes and see what we are presented with and how we move forward with change. Hopefully we are now doing in this industry, but there’s a long way to go. Within all departments, you need to see ethnic diversity in stage management, wigs, wardrobe, crew, front of house. It needs to be everywhere, not just on stage.
I read that you worked with designers on creating a new look for Christine. What was important to you in those discussions?
It was not lost on me that being the first Black woman to play the role was huge. It was so important to represent in the right way. Christine can look like anyone and it was so important to come into this role as a Black woman and still represent as a Black woman.
I don’t have straight hair, it’s curly and it’s afro textured. Throughout history, it’s been deemed that afro textured hair isn’t beautiful. It’s seen as difficult and unable to manage, but what it is to me and so many other women, it’s our crown. We love our crown and want to celebrate our crown.
Coming into this role, I really wanted to blow that stigma of unprofessionalism and represent my hair in a period style of the show in the most beautiful form. I wanted to show other women of colour that this hair — and the world — that this hair texture is just as beautiful and can be styled in the way of the era, and it still looks elegant and classy.
Unfortunately, within our industry, we don’t have many teams that work with Black, afro-textured hair. When I go out on the stage, it’s so important that when women look at me, they see my hair is looked after and styled to perfection. Every other Christine would have had the care and detail in their wig, so you need to know how to work afro hair. Looking at the hair texture to make sure it was close to my hair and the design of how it worked.
It was a long process to get to where we were. There were trials and errors and coming together to get to what we’ve beautifully created. When I step out I’m not just representing Christine, it’s Christine as a Black woman and I’m saying that this is beautiful and it’s powerful.
Do you relate to Christine at all? How do you feel that you can bring yourself into Christine?
There’s so many parts of Christine which are parallel with my life. She’s a budding singer with a voice inside her that she didn’t know. For me, it came a little bit later, especially the soprano side. It was something I knew deep down in me and it took a lot of convincing. Within the classical world, someone like me doesn’t fit in. I had to break boundaries and try to be seen. My singing teacher unlocked another side of my voice which gave me the other dimension I could tap into.
In terms of Christine’s journey, she starts in the ballet corps, and I started in ballet years ago. I danced for many years and it was another way that I was hoping to make my career. Then I went into musical theatre, because it gave me many options.
Throughout the show, Christine grows into a strong, compassionate young woman. Throughout my life, I’ve gone through different hurdles, but I used those strengths to add within Christine. For me, it’s very cathartic that I can tap into emotions but attach them to Christine.
Phantom is almost like a therapy session! By the end of the show, the love on that stage and the raw emotion is there. I’ve got a box of tissues in the wings waiting, because it’s so emotional. But it’s a beautiful journey to go on every night.
Photo credit: Lucy St. Louis and Killian Donnelly (Photo by Johan Persson)