Palatine native making history as 1st Black actor to play lead role in 'Phantom of the Opera'

ByCheryl Burton and Megan Hawkins WLS logo
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Palatine native makes history with lead role in 'Phantom of the Opera'
Emilie Kouatchou is the first Black actor to land the lead role of Christine Daae in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Emilie Kouatchou is making history in her Broadway debut as Christine Daae in "Phantom of the Opera."

Taking the stage at the Majestic Theatre in New York City, the young woman is the first Black actor to land the lead role.

"When there's a Black woman for the first time in 35 years playing Christine, and you think what are these audiences going to think?" Kouatchou said. "And you hold yourself up to such a high standard because you feel like you have to exceed expectations."

Kouatchou grew up in the Chicago area, dreaming of one day making it big on Broadway. She started performing at a young age, taking voice lessons at age 7 and getting involved in community theater in northwest suburban Palatine.

"Phantom was the first show I ever saw on Broadway," Kouatchou said. "I sat in the nosebleed seats and I didn't see much, but I remembered the masks at the end and that beautiful image and it's kind of beautiful that it came full circle... I'm doing it now. I'm backstage when that happens now. I'm not out there in the audience. I'm actually on stage doing it. It's crazy."

The Fremd High School graduate quickly mastered the bright lights and big city, but admitted to having stage fright at her opening performance.

"I struggled with anxiety, you know, 'Am I good enough? Why me? Will I be able to do this well? Will I be able to do other people proud?'" Kouatchou said. "Will I be able to make my parents proud and other Black kids proud?"

Kouatchou is adjusting to her newfound fame and committing to becoming a role model for others.

"Growing up, I had probably two or three people in the industry that I could look up to and think these people are doing what I want to do," Kouatchou said. "And now, people who are my age back then can look at me, can look at all of these different actors and be even more inspired to pursue their dreams."

She won't say what her plans will be after the final curtain call next month, but she's proud of using this platform to empower other women.

"I can't wait to see what the future holds," Kouatchou said. "I wish the show kept going so that there could be more Christines of color. That would just be amazing. I'm just so excited that we get to end on such a high note, a positive note and a nod to the future of Broadway... It's only going to benefit Broadway in the future, the more we push the boundaries, the more we open things up."

Kouatchou will lead the final cast of "Phantom" when it ends its 35-year run on April 16 at New York's Majestic Theatre.

"Phantom of the Opera" is the longest-running show in Broadway history.