“Phantom of the Opera” Casting Causes Controversy

An actor who once served jail time for endangering the welfare of a minor is Broadway’s newest “Phantom”—and there are some people who are extremely unhappy about it.

Last week, James Barbour, 48, was named to succeed actor Norm Lewis --the first black man to play the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical figure on Broadway. A stage veteran, Barbour has appeared in a number of shows before, including “Assassins,” “Urinetown” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

But in 2006, he was indicted on nine counts of engaging in criminal sexual acts, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child after activity between Barbour and a 15-year-old female fan back in 2001, following a performance of “Jane Eyre.”

Barbour would admit to a judge in 2008 that he fondled the girl in his dressing room before the final curtain call, and engaged in oral sex with her the following month in his Upper West Side apartment.

He plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a minor, which absolved Barbour from having to register as a sex offender. He served a 60-day jail sentence and received three-years probation.

After the casting announcement, fans took to social media to express their outrage.

“The fact that James Barbour was chosen as the new Phantom makes me sick,” wrote Patricia Ferragamo, on Twitter. “There are plenty of talented actors who aren't confessed criminals.”

Aileen McKenna, a reporter and co-founder of the popular theater site The Craptacular, argued that Barbour’s casting alluded to a bigger problem.

“As a woman, I feel uncomfortable with, and alienated by this casting decision,” McKenna wrote. “It makes me wonder if this Broadway -- the one that casts men who confessed to sexual conduct with a minor -- is a Broadway that I personally want to be a part of, or financially support.”

Barbour’s defenders were equally vocal on social media.

“It’s healthy to want people to learn from their mistakes and move forward,” added Katie Lott on Facebook. “I’m sure he’ll do a fabulous job.”

Many wondered why “Phantom” casting was bringing so much controversy this time around. The actor previously appeared, post conviction, in 2008’s “A Tale of Two Cities.”

It could have something to do with the worldwide success of “Phantom” -- the longest running show on Broadway. Or it could be because the character of the Phantom obsesses over a young girl he can’t have.

“The Phantom of the Opera” defended the move, in a statement appearing on the musical’s Facebook page. “James fully accepted the responsibility of what happened 14 years ago,” they said. “While we know some will disagree, we believe James has completely honored the second chance he was given beginning 7 years ago.”

Barbour’s run begins Feb. 9.

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