When Broadway superstar Norm Lewis made his solo debut at Carnegie Hall this year, it felt like the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. He had been part of Carnegie Hall events before, but to headline his own concert there? That made an impression on even this seasoned performer.
“It felt like an out-of-body experience,” Lewis says.
Now Lewis, who is known for his starring Broadway performances in Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Porgy and Bess, Once on This Island, and more, is bringing his solo show An Evening with Norm Lewis to the DC region for an intimate concert at George Mason’s Hylton Performing Arts Center September 18.
Lewis promises that his Virginia concert will feature what he describes as “Norm’s greatest hits,” major songs from the musicals he has starred in over the years. But Lewis also promises “a deep dive into the American songbook” and possibly a few songs inspired by his recent screen roles, including his first major motion picture, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods.
“I don’t call my shows concerts or cabarets but An Evening with Norm,” he says. “I like my audiences to get to know me. I talk to them, and hopefully, they talk back. It should feel like a party where I invite you into my living room.”
One song Lewis says he never tires of singing is “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. Lewis made history in 2014 when he became the first Black performer to play the role of the Phantom on Broadway, and audiences still thrill to hear him sing “Music of the Night.” At the Kennedy Center’s 50 Years of Broadway anniversary concert last February, Lewis received a spontaneous five-minute standing ovation after performing the number.
“I cannot tell you how much fun we had at that Kennedy Center concert,” Lewis recalls of the three-day extravaganza that brought many of Broadway’s leading performers to DC. “It felt like being at camp with all your best friends.”
Lewis has become a frequent visitor to the DC region in recent years. In addition to the 50th-anniversary concert, Lewis played Harold Hill in the Kennedy Center’s The Music Man alongside co-star Jessie Mueller as Marian. “You can fall in love with Jessie Mueller every day of the week!” Lewis enthuses about the experience. Lewis will be back at the Kennedy Center this December in director Kenny Leon’s production of A Soldier’s Play.
Surprisingly, A Soldier’s Play will only be Lewis’ second time performing in a nonmusical play. Although Lewis has been performing in musicals on Broadway since 1993, he had never been in a Broadway play. That changed last year when playwright Douglas Lyons invited Lewis to join the cast of Chicken and Biscuits, one of the first plays to open on Broadway after the 18-month closure.
“It felt amazing to be back with people again,” Lewis says of returning to Broadway for the first time after COVID. “Theater is our church. It’s where we gather with ideology and purpose, trying to bring truth to this art.”
Lewis has to fit concerts around an otherwise busy performance schedule. In addition to his work on the Great White Way, Lewis has played many roles on both large and small screens in recent years. A guest-starring role on the FX TV series Pose included a love scene with fellow Broadway legend, and Lewis’ good friend, Billy Porter. “We’ve known each other for over 30 years,” Lewis laughs when recalling the now-viral Pose kiss scene with Porter. “We had to film that scene several times and every time Billy was like ‘I feel like I’m kissing my brother!’”
In addition to performing, Lewis has been busy in recent years as one of the founding members of Black Theatre United, a group formed in 2020 by America’s leading Black theatermakers to combat systemic racism in the theater industry. Lewis says the group was born in 2020 when he and 19 other Black theater veterans including LaChanze and Audra McDonald met on Zoom. “We saw how angry the younger generation of Black artists was. It felt like they were looking to us as the older generation so we started asking ourselves what we could do.” The organization now advocates for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the theater industry, working to make small changes like ensuring theaters have someone who knows how to do Black hair onstage and larger, systemic changes like offering mentoring opportunities to younger artists. (Lewis encourages anyone in New York on October 3 to attend the group’s first gala at the South Street Seaport.)
But between all of these experiences, Lewis loves the opportunity to connect with audiences in intimate concerts like the one coming up at the Hylton Center. “It’s an opportunity to take your mind off your troubles for 80 or 90 minutes,” Lewis says. “The world is going nuts right now so let’s get together and sing some songs and tell some stories.”
An Evening with Norm Lewis plays one night only on September 18, 2022, at 7:00 pm at the Hylton Performing Arts Center at George Mason Unversity – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. For tickets ($40–$70; half-price for students through grade 12), call the box office at 703-993-7550 or go online.
Running Time: 75–90 minutes with no intermission.
COVID Safety: Face coverings are recommended for indoor events at the Hylton Center. Current protocols can be found here.
15 Questions in 15 Minutes with Broadway’s Norm Lewis (interview by Deb Miller)