Ali Ewoldt: Breaking Boundaries and Achieving Dream Roles

Ali Ewoldt: Breaking Boundaries and Achieving Dream Roles

Ali Ewoldt made history when it was announced earlier this year that she has been chosen to play the role of Christine Daae, The Phantom of the Opera’s leading lady. She is the first woman of color, the first Asian-American to do so in the musical’s almost 30-year history.

“It means a lot just to do the part let alone be the groundbreaker or somebody at the forefront of change in that way. I’m just trying the best job I could do and to help tell the story the best way I can, which is to sing the songs really well,” Ali said, reacting to the news back in June.

The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in January 1988, and Ronald Reagan was president.

It became the longest running show on Broadway a decade ago, back in 2006, beating the record set by Cats. This week, the cast celebrated another unprecedented Broadway milestone, their 12,000th performance.

Since the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical debuted on January 26, 1988, it has grossed over $1 billion with total attendance of 17.4 million. Even now, it is consistently among Broadway’s highest-grossing shows.

“It is really incredible to be in a show that has been in existence for the past 28 and a half years or so on Broadway. There’s so much history steeped into the theater,” Ali Ewoldt, the talented Fil-Am theater actor who currently plays the role of Christine Daae, told us.

“Even in the dressing room, knowing that this was the dressing room that Sarah Brightman created the role in. The chandelier is the same chandelier that was there when they opened the show. There’s a great energy about being part of something that has moved and inspired so many people,” Ali continued.

She has been approached by people who tell her that they are inspired by her, after watching the musical.

“Now, they can aspire to be Christine on the show someday because they see me doing it. That’s something much bigger than me and it is kind of amazing to inspire people that way,” she added.

For Ali, it is all bout her attaining one of her life goals, one that she set when she was barely ten years old.

It is as vivid as she remembers.

She was ten years old when she watched Phantom of the Opera for the very first time and she absolutely loved it. It was also then that she fell in love with all things musical theater

“I really hoped that I’d be Christine someday, even if it’s not on Broadway. I’ve sung Think of Me a hundred times, including an embarrassing one at a cruise ship when I was only ten years old,” Ali laughed as she recalled the moment.

Growing up, she studied voice for a long time and in college, she tried to study something a little more practical or something that would give her a more stable career path. That is why our leading lady here became a Psychology major at Yale.

While there, her love of performing didn’t wane a bit. On her senior year, she was performing with the Graduate Opera Program. They needed an extra soprano for The Marriage of Figaro and she was cast as Barbarina and did her thing onstage. One of the cast members had a friend in the audience who happened to be a casting agent from New York.

She was asked if musical theater was something she would consider and that their agency could represent her. She agreed and went on to various auditions.

Ali made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the first Broadway revival of Les Miserables back in 2006. She was understudy for Tuptim at the recent revival of The King and I. She was also Maria in the first national tour of West Side Story and Luisa in the long-running Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks.

Phantom has always been one of those dream shows, specially for a soprano.

“I’ve always wanted to sing the beautiful music that Christine gets to sing. She auditioned for the role many times during the years and thankfully, it finally worked out and I’m just really happy to be singing Christine at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway every night,” Ali shared.

First night

“I was definitely nervous,” Ali admitted. “We had a great rehearsal process, lots of amazing people were helping me to get ready for the show. It was basically my first time with everyone else in costume.”

Ali eventually got adjusted to hearing the orchestra, to moving around in her costume –beautiful but very heavy and tricky – and she said she can’t walk backwards in them.

“I was trying o find the quiet amidst all the chaos that was going on. It was so exciting,” she said.

But that first night almost did not happen.

A little back story. Let’s just say that Ali has had her share of heartbreaks and rejections and when the opportunity presented itself again, she had cold feet and she had to think it over.

“There’s so much in this business of ‘You’ll never know, maybe this time…’. As much as I’d like to say ‘I don’t want to put myself through that again’ or ‘I can’t go through not getting the role one more time’, there’s always that seed of hope and excitement and possibility,” she shared. “I just tapped into that. What if I don’t go and this is the time. Thankfully, my agent was also wonderful in pushing me to go for the same reasons.”

And that seed of hope blossomed into a beautiful opportunity for Ali, one that she has been aspiring for since she was a little girl.

Creating Christine

Ali knows Christine now based on what she has seen as a young girl and based on her own research about the young soprano on the show.

She went back to the source material and started reading the book again, which was according to her, “useful and somewhat not”.

“I wanted to understand what Christine was like. Here’s a girl who is sucked into this supernatural world and believing in this phantom and giving his trust to him. In the book, it is explained that she is Scandinavian and they believe in myths and folklore and that’s in her mind,” Ali shared to us, and this was when she paused for emphasis.

“And I said, wait, that’s just like Filipinos! Filipinos are incredibly superstitious and believe in ghosts. I remember getting to my aunt’s cabin and there were portraits on the wall and we were told not to stay in this or that room. It was something that I understood culturally as well and let me open the door to Christine that way and let logic aside to get swept up in this world,” she said, completing her story.

Ali’s narrative, particularly her love for music, is mostly because of what’s in her DNA.

Her mom grew up in Pangasinan and they’ve always been close to her side of the family. She is one of eight siblings and they always had reunions every year when Ali was growing up.

“Experiencing the closeness of family that way was fun. We were singing most of the time. Music had a huge part in my upbringing with my Filipino relatives and magic mike and talent shows every year. It was about the passion for music and gathering around the table at Thanksgiving and everybody would just sing in harmony because they love it. That was important to me,” Ali said.

She fondly remembers one of her mom’s sisters – Tita Lenlen from Alabama, who showed her the DVD of the making of Miss Saigon and introduced Ali to Lea Salonga and how incredible she was.

“Then we went to see Lea in Miss Saigon and her playing Eponine in Les Miz. It was a huge watershed moment for me because here was a Filipino who is playing an amazing role in a very successful musical on Broadway and it wasn’t about her being Asian or Filipino or anything, it was just her telling the story. It was groundbreaking that way,” she continued.

And now, it is Ali Ewoldt who is groundbreaking herself.

She may have broken boundaries in order to achieve her childhood dream of becoming Christine Daae on Broadway but there’s a lot more in store for this Filipino-American go-getter. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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