In Light of #MeToo, Is Broadway Going to Address Its Forgiveness of Their Current Phantom?
Let's all agree.
Someone who sexually abuses a teenage girl on multiple occasions should be in jail.
Someone who confesses to and is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions should be registered as a sex offender.
Someone who is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions, should not be allowed to return to the very place of work where they committed the crime.
Seems pretty straightforward and reasonable right? Can we all agree? If that's the case then,
Someone who is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions, should not be starring as the current Phantom of the Opera.
Yet he is.
Ever since the news of Harvey Weinstein's allegations came out, men and women have been defiantly and bravely sharing their own experiences with sexual abuse and harassment on social media with the #metoo. Thankfully, the entertainment industry has also started to seriously discuss how it handles this issue and those who perpetrate it.
Many have said that Harvey Weinstein will never work in Hollywood again.
I say, are we sure about that?
Becuase Hollywood has a horrible track record of forgiving and forgetting when it comes to sexual abuse and harassment.
While they booted Harvey Weinstein from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they have not done the same to Bill Cosby who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 50 women and is currently awaiting a re-trial this spring.
Also still a member in good standing is Roman Polanski who was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970's. He was awarded the Oscar for Best Director in 2003.
So is 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins who admitted to “inappropriate sexual conduct with three female minors." As of today, he is welcomed company by the Academy.
And Broadway is no better.
They welcomed convicted rapist Mike Tyson, who used moments of his one-man Broadway show to paint his accuser as a villain, to perform alongside Neil Patrick Harris at the Tony Awards.
Two years ago the New York Times published a damning article which detailed actor Scott Shepherd's domestic abuse of his girlfriend. Today he is starring in Measure for Measure at The Public Theater.
So pardon me if I don't believe Hollywood's exile of Harvey Weinstein is going to be permanent. Hollywood and Broadway have short memories as long as you have talent and friends in high places.
Which brings us to Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, James Barbour.
In 2001, James Barbour was starring in the musical Jane Eyre. A 15-year old aspiring actress comes to the show and is also scheduled to meet the then 35-year old Barbour backstage since they both went to the same high school and had the same drama teacher.
At some point during their initial encounter in his dressing room at the Brooks Atkinson, James Barbour fondles the 15-year-old girl.
After the encounter, Barbour, the victim, her parents and Barbour's girlfriend, grab dinner at a nearby restaurant. Allegedly, with her parents and his girlfriend just mere feet away, Barbour fondles the teen again, under the table.
A month later, Barbour invites the teen to his West 98th St apartment where the two perform oral sex. All the while, Barbour knew she was 15-years old.
For the next five years, Barbour would go on to appear in Broadway productions of Urinetown and Assassins. While he was performing on stage, his victim was left suffering from shame and guilt.
In 2006, the 15-year old victim, now 20, after learning that another woman also had accused Barbour of touching her as a teen, reports her encounters to police.
"When the idea that another girl could be going through what I had gone through, I felt obligated to come forward," she said to the Daily News.
James Barbour was indicted in 2006 on nine counts of engaging in criminal sexual acts, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.
Days later, upon learning of the charges leveled against Barbour, a second accuser comes forward stating that he molested her when she was 13 years-old in California, seven years prior.
Due to California's statute of limitations of just three years, charges could not be pressed. However, the victim stated she would testify if need be.
After pleading not guilty, Barbour and his attorney, Ronald P. Fischetti, beyond denying the charges, launched an ugly campaign against the victim.
In December 2006, Fischetti asked the judge in the trial for permission to publish the victim's name in the newspapers in order to set up a hotline to see if she had falsely accused anyone else of sexual misconduct.
"I want to put up a hotline with her name on it (and place it) in the newspapers," Fischetti told the judge. "I want to have people call me on the basis of other claims that she had made. We believe that this alleged victim has made these false allegations before."
That request was denied and a gag order was put in place.
Months later, Fischetti tried to get the gag order lifted. His appeal was denied in July of 2007. The Daily News reported,
"The court upheld the judge's decision not to allow it, saying that Fischetti had shown no good faith basis for suggesting the girl had a history of falsely accusing anyone. It said that without such a showing, the policy interest of having sex crimes victims come forward without fear of exposure "outweighs what would amount to a fishing expedition."
The following month, on August 17th, it was announced that James Barbour would star in the upcoming musical, A Tale of Two Cities.
So at the time, Broadway producers and casting professionals had no qualms about casting an actor who was on trial for sexual abuse of a minor.
Barbour's defense was that the 15-year-old girl was the aggressor and somehow overpowered a 35-year-old man with her sexual advances. Rather than guilt and shame, Barbour, through his attorney, accused the victim of reporting her abuse as nothing more than a money grab.
"She left NYU, she's working in a bakery, she's completely out of money," his lawyer Ronald Fischetti had claimed. "The motivation has to be because he's coming into money, and because he's becoming a Broadway star."
At one point during the trial, when Fischetti stated that it was the victim who initiated the contact, the victim screamed "That's not true!" and ran out of the courtroom crying.
In response to the outburst, Fischetti stated to reporters, "She's an actress, this girl can cry on a moment's notice."
Months later, after trying to paint his victim as a conniving golddigger, James Barbour accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
In court, Barbour, was asked by the judge if he knew the age of his victim.
“Were you aware of her exact age?”
Mr. Barbour replied, “Yes.”
“What was that age?” Justice Scherer pressed.
“Fifteen,” he replied
According to the Daily News, Barbour also admitted luring the victim to his apartment by promising to introduce her to theatrical producers - and then engaging in oral sex with her.
He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years’ probation. By accepting the plea deal, Barbour would have to go through many of the protocols associated with being a sex offender.
The New York Times reported,
"While he was on probation, he had to inform the manager, producer or assistant director of any theatrical, film or television project he worked with in that he has been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, “having engaged in oral sexual conduct and sexual contact with a 15-year-old child.”
And he had to get permission from the court or probation officer to participate in shows employing child actors or to give backstage tours to children.
He also had to attend sex-offender treatment and could not visit playgrounds, arcades, amusement parks, school grounds or Internet chat rooms frequented by children without permission from his probation officer."
However because he pleaded to misdemeanors, not felonies, Barbour would not have to register as a sex offender and would not have to disclose his conviction after his probation expired in 2011.
During the sentencing hearing, the victim read a statement in court which she stated her reasoning for coming forward. She then criticized Fischetti's defense tactics.
"It's no wonder more victims of sex crimes don't come forward," she said. "Not when they risk facing such brutal attacks."
Rather than fire an actor convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, producers of A Tale of Two Cities stuck by Mr. Barbour. After serving his prison sentence, Barbour returned to rehearsals and starred in the show when it opened on September 18th, 2008.
With the show closed, Barbour wasn't seen much during the three years of his probation.
In 2011, he was announced to star as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Since his probation had expired by then, it's unknown whether or not Barbour disclosed his conviction to producers at the Old Globe during the casting process.
Nevertheless, once his casting was announced, news of his prior conviction started to spread. The LA Times reported, "the case was mentioned several days ago in the San Diego Union-Tribune. A San Diego radio talk show host picked up the fact and criticized the Old Globe for several days in a row for hiring Barbour. "
It also probably didn't help that the Old Globe advertised a show starring a convicted sex abuser, fresh off his probation like this:
Days later, James Barbour left the production citing that he was leaving due to issues surrounding his wife's pregnancy.
In January 2015, it was announced that James Barbour would succeed Norm Lewis as the Phantom in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, his first Broadway role since his conviction. The outrage, which I wrote about, was immediate.
In response to the protest of the casting, Phantom's producers put out the following statement,
"PHANTOM has the best fans in the world and we are deeply appreciative for all of you and listen to all comments posted here. We are of course aware of the reaction to the announcement of our newest Phantom for Broadway and want to respond to you. James gave a tremendous audition and we are confident he will be a thrilling Phantom. James fully accepted responsibility for what happened 14 years ago. Following his sentence in 2008, James resumed his career, starring in A TALE OF TWO CITIES on Broadway. In the seven years since then, he has appeared in countless productions in New York and around the country, receiving great acclaim, and maintaining a spotless reputation. Additionally, he has been an active member of the Broadway community, giving his time to numerous charitable causes. While we know some will disagree, we believe James has completely honored the second chance he was given beginning 7 years ago and we are happy to have him join the production next month."
Barbour has been playing the Phantom ever since. In that time he's also been the recipient of the Shining Star Award by the Jane Elissa Charitable Fund and had his portrait displayed at Sardi's. At this time, there is no sign that James Barbour's run as the Phantom will end anytime soon. As of today, James Barbour has never publicly discussed the incident or his conviction.
Broadway's condemnation of Harvey Weinstein's actions is understandable yet peculiar since someone convicted of doing the same thing, to a minor no less, is currently starring in one of the most coveted male roles today. Also keep in mind that the actress who reported her abuse backstage at Jane Eyre to police, did so because she had reportedly heard that Barbour had sexually abused another actress. Whether or not this was the 13-year-old in CA is unknown, but it could also mean there are at least three different women who were sexually assaulted by James Barbour.
Do convicted sexual abusers deserve a second chance? Pending the circumstances, I'm inclined to say yes. However, should convicted sexual abusers be allowed to return to the industry they used to commit their crimes? Absolutely not.
Remember, James Barbour used his stature as a Broadway actor to lure and sexually assault a 15-year-old girl backstage at the Brooks Atkinson theatre. Aside from breaking the law, what Barbour did violates every sacred trust there is between performers and their fans. Using his position of power as methods to sexually abuse a young girl is exactly what Harvey Weinstein is accused of doing.
While many have defended him by saying he deserves to be able to work and make a living, I'm saying that his living shouldn't have to be made doing the same thing he did when he sexually abused a minor. Would you let Jerry Sandusky coach another football team? Would you let Harvey Weinstein produce another movie? Should Donald Trump be allowed to own another beauty pageant? James Barbour could have left the industry and made a nice living in another one, especially since he wouldn't have to disclose his conviction.
Also consider the show, an older man who was convicted of using his position of power to prey on a young girl is now starring in a role of an older man who using his position of power to prey on a young girl. That's a more than awkward realization.
So why has Broadway defended James Barbour and gone as far as to celebrate him? That's a good question.
James Barbour has been the beneficiary of timing. Nine years ago, when he was convicted, crimes of these nature weren't prosecuted the same ways they are today. Would that deal be offered in 2017? Perhaps not.
Would a convicted sex abuser of a minor be allowed to stay in a role that would open on Broadway mere months after his prison sentence ended? Probably not. I would go further in criticizing the producers of A Tale of Two Cities but most of them haven't worked on Broadway since. Yet the producers of Phantom praised their poor decision making. Go figure.
Would Casting Director Jay Binder have confirmed the belief that talent trumps criminal convictions in casting? After all, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “James Barbour is a first-rate Broadway leading man. If he were the actor that the entire creative staff agreed upon, there would be no professional reason not to hire James Barbour.” I'd like to think Binder's opinion has changed since then.
But most of all Jame Barbour has benefited from our stance on sexual abuse. All of us abhor it, but when it comes to post-conviction, our stance softens.
Some of them displayed flippancy to the severity of the crime.
"So an actor who was tried by a court YEARS ago of a misdemeanor, served his time - should never be allowed to work again? Move on people. Enough with the witch hunts."
"Another thing that's making me nuts is that consensual sex (albeit illegal, and I'm not saying it's okay what he did) is very different from drugging/raping a woman/girl....I'm not saying it was okay. It wasn't. And he pleaded guilty. But statutory rape isn't necessarily abuse. In this case, I'm almost certain it's not."
"I think it's fine that he's the new Phantom. We all have a past, but 14 years ago is the past, if it was 3 years ago, I'd understand."
"If his sexual contact with this girl had happened in Austria, Germany, Portugal, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Denmark, or Greece, no one would have cared, and he would have never gone to jail because it would have been perfectly legal there. The age of consent is either 14 or 15 in all of those countries. In 31 U.S. states, the age of consent is 16. In New York, it’s 17."
Some of them even blamed the victim,
"Those who are without sin or do not know the facts cast the first stone. Amazing none of you know the truth and yet you condemn. Things are not always black and white and sometimes the victim is not as innocent as they claim. Sometimes it is a convenient way to climb up the ladder. Ever heard of the bad seed? Want to condemn someone why not her parents who were there, who drove her and who try to sabotage anything Barbour does. (This one was made by a Drama Desk Voter)
"I don't understand why the girl was in his dressing room before the show was over, and why she continuously returned to his residence despite the actions taken. I question her as much as him."
"She was a 15-year-old girl (not exactly a child), and she went to his apartment for sex on more than 1 occasion. I think she "preyed" on HIM when she realized SHE had made a mistake."
Would these comments continue in light of the Harvey Weinstein allegations? I'm sure we'll see with the publishing of this column.
I'm thankful that this watershed moment has stirred enough people that there is now a national discussion about sexual abuse and harassment. Men who have used their positions of power to enact sexual assault are now being outed, condemned and punished both professionally and criminally. More importantly, those who helped to protect these individuals and cover up their crimes are being outed as well.
I'm not going to call for James Barbour to step down as the Phantom or for producers to fire him. I did that two years ago and was ignored.
I'm not going to call for a boycott of the show because I'm not interested in punishing Barbour's co-stars who had nothing to do with any of this.
I'm not going to call on the Actor's Fund to remove him from its Actor's Committee. Again, all of this should have happened years ago and the fact that it didn't, speaks volumes.
However, I am going to call on Broadway professionals to use this watershed moment of raised awareness of sexual abuse as a teachable one.
If Hollywood and Broadway are sincere with their outrage and support of victims of sexual harassment and abuse, that condemnation needs to be practiced by not welcoming back their perpetrators with open arms no matter how much time has passed.
Because if they do, lessons will not be learned, all the #metoo's mean nothing and even worse, these incidents of sexual abuse will continue.