"I've always been an actor in live theatre," George Lee Andrews says. "I've learned what it means to go out every night and do a show, and do it again and again. My theory is to try to do it better every time."
Andrews has given himself many opportunities to do it better — and better. On Jan. 26, 1988, when The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, he was onstage at the Majestic Theatre. Now, 23 years and more than 9,500 performances later, with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical firmly established as the longest-running show in Broadway history, Andrews remains in the cast. In 2006, Guinness World Records designated him the performer who has served the longest in the same Broadway show.
Andrews first portrayed Don Attilio and Passarino; in 1990 he switched to Monsieur Firmin, a manager of the opera company; and in 2001 he took on Monsieur André, the other company manager — the role he has played over the last decade.
"Acting is living in the moment," Andrews says. "I've found that doing that every night — living in the excitement of being on a Broadway stage in this wonderful show, in front of an audience that's lapping it up, is a huge thrill. I try to give the audience that thrill." Andrews, 68, was born in Milwaukee. "I did a few plays in high school. I was in an all-boys school, and it was the fun of going to the all-girls school to do the play. But then I found I loved acting."
|photo by Joan Marcus|
There was a small professional theatre in Milwaukee, the Fred Miller Theater, "and they needed some chorus singers for Song of Norway. I auditioned, and a cousin who was in the company talked the director into taking me."
Andrews spent the next decade working in the Midwest. "I finally thought it was time to come to New York. My first appearance here was in an industrial show for New York Telephone in a tent in Central Park." In 1970 he was cast Off-Broadway in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
"I had a song; it was cut in Boston. I did it for a year, a very small role, without singing a note. People would ask why I was staying when I wasn't really doing anything, but I said, 'What better company could I be in?' Then Hal Prince took me under his wing and gave me the lead, Frederik, in the touring company."
Andrews says that Prince "has been a loyal friend and mentor. It culminated in his casting me in Phantom," which Prince also directed.
"I was 45. My kids were starting school, and I thought, 'I have a chance for a nice job with a paycheck, and to stay in New York with my family, which is hugely important to me, more important than my career.' Phantom gave me all that."
Last year he took a three-month leave from Phantom to do Prince's musical Paradise Found in London.
The future? "My eyes are open to whatever pops up. But I'm still happy with Phantom."