The Phantom of the Opera Casting Controversy: Addressing the Misguided & Misinformed

In the past week since I wrote a call to boycott Phantom of the Operadue to the casting of admitted sex abuser James Barbour, there has been a flurry of various reactions from fans and the Broadway community. Some have condemned this decision while others support Barbour and his casting. While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, I can't help but be disappointed with how many are basing their opinions on half-truths and hearsay.

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The Worst Responses I've Seen To "Phantom's" Casting Controversy

Chris Peterson

 Whenever a news story breaks involving a celebrity, you see a plethora of different responses on social media. Some are condemning, others are rallying support. While some make logical arguments, others lack common sense.

When it comes to the issue of the casting of James Barbour in Phantom of the Opera, I have seen comments that proves to me that sex abuse is an issue that many people get passionate about. Looking at the comments made not only on this blog but on other social media sites, there are some comments that I want to frame because they exemplify exactly how sex abuse and its abusers should be treated. And then there are some that show how far we have yet to go. Here are some of them. I am removed the names and my responses are in below each comment.

"I'm not sure what the balance is here. The man should be able to make a living in his profession. I also think he is a great talent and I will say that "The Soliloquy" from CAROUSEL has never been sung more thrilling than when performed by James Barbour. Are we to accept the law and let him move on with his life, or work to make the rest of his life hell and ruin his career? Should he become a car salesman?"

You're right, he should be able to make a living, but not as a Broadway actor. What James Barbour did was use his position as a Broadway actor as a means to have multiple sexual encounters with a 15 year old girl, which he knew was 15. That's not gossip, that's fact. So if we ban teachers who are convicted of sex abuse from the classroom, why is it okay for James Barbour to return to the environment that he used as a way to engage in sexual contact with a minor? This is a question that no one has been able to answer. Barbour put his career in jeopardy when he committed these acts.

"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."

I've heard this defense before, mostly on Law & Order SVU when a sex offender is trying to justify his actions. And if you want the best legal explanation of how Barbour escaped felony charges, this is the best one.

"A. He was not convicted of a sexual crime. B. The girl is now an actress and it has been said on multiple accounts that she pressed charges for money because she was broke"

A. Yes he was, pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, both misdemeanors. Mr. Barbour had to agree to a lengthy series of conditions of probation that are very similar to those that apply to convicted sex offenders. While he was on probation, he had inform the manager, producer or assistant director of any theatrical, film or television project he works in that he had been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, “having engaged in oral sexual conduct and sexual contact with a 15-year-old child.”

B. Despite that fact that this is false because the victim has never come forward, it doesn't matter the reasons why she came forward to press charges. James Barbour admitted to what she accused him of. Enough said.

"You need to learn about forgiveness. Was it wrong, yes, is he sorry, yes, maybe no, who knows. But, the law has spoken, he has had a clean record, and he has moved on, and now it's time for you to do the same. Your anger and hatred is actually more viral than the actions he did 14 years ago."

So my reaction to sex abuse is more damaging that if I committed sexual abuse? Would you tell this to a sexual abuse victim? He's moved on, why can't you? I mean seriously?!?!?!

"He was charged, he served his punishment, as the Phantom statement said he served his time, has a spotless record, rehabilitated, starred in the AMAZING Tale of Two Cities in one of the most beautiful roles Broadway has seen in a long time and quite honestly should've been Phantom 16 years ago. The fact that it's taken 14 years for him to get here is the SECOND jail sentence on his career that all you idiots think he deserves."

I'm sure Tale of Two Cities was amazing for all 60 performances it had on Broadway. And in your mind:

Prision = Not playing the Phantom on Broadway.

"You're under the impression that people cannot make mistakes. You are also, by default saying that when one makes a mistake, they must be labelled and cannot change."

Sex abuse isn't a mistake, it's a crime. Also, statistically speaking, sex offenders don't change. 

"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."

And here we have the abhorrent trend called, blaming the victim

"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."

I don't like to put people on blast but this one kind of deserves it. His name is Mike Kolstee. Mike is either an internet troll or a moron, probably both.

" I understand why so many Phans are upset. Nevertheless, a significant amount of time has passed since these offenses. Mr. Barbour has matured, married, become a father, and remained clean."

I believe a good deal of time passed since the last time Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy as well.

"That's how Broadway, and theatre in general, works. And in answer to the "there are hundreds of talented singers...blah blah." Yeah. Of course there are. But they didn't audition, did they? He did. He did better than the others. Best audition gets the role. That's how it goes. So sorry. But that's how the cookie crumbles. Welcome to Broadway, people"

In your opinion, you forgot to add that Broadway is also where young girls get lured to be molested.

"There sure are a bunch of sanctimonious prigs around here. Everybody thinks they know exactly what happened way back then, and they're climbing down the portcullis with pitchforks in hand."

No we're not, we're reacting to what James Barbour admitted he did to a 15 year old girl.

Why You Should Boycott "Phantom of the Opera"

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

The year is 2001.

A young girl and her family from New Jersey go to see the Broadway musical, Jane Eyre. The young girl is an aspiring actress hoping to make it to Broadway. Her drama teacher knows one of the stars of the show, since he comes from the same town. After the show, the young aspiring actress is invited backstage to meet one of the actors, James Barbour. Barbour is a star on the rise. He had been the Beast in Beauty & The Beast, was also in the revival of Carousel.  

At some point during that encounter backstage, James Barbour fondled the young girl and then forced her to fondle him. She was 15 at the time and James Barbour knew she was 15.

They had another sexual encounter, a month later, this time at Barbour's apartment. After promising her that he would introduce her to Broadway producers, he engaged in oral sex with the minor, again knowing full well that she was indeed a minor.

After this, Barbour would go onto to be cast in productions of Assassins and Urinetown.

The year is 2006.

The young girl, now a 20-year-old sex crime victim, presses criminal charges against Barbour as he is about to star on Broadway in A Tale of Two Cities. Initially Barbour and lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, deny the charges and plead not guilty. But they don't stop there. They start a smear campaign against the victim, claiming that she is a gold digger, who is only going after Barbour now because he had just inherited money. They even go as far as trying to reveal the victim's name and set up a hotline number that people can call to see if she has tried to extort money from them through accusations of sex abuse(thankfully the court put a gag order on this).

During this time, a second alleged victim comes forward. She and Barbour met in California and he allegedly groped her as well, she as 13 at the time.

After pleading not guilty, Barbour would go onto to star in A Tale of Two Cities. 

The year is 2008.

After battling in courts and in the public, James Barbour confesses to the accusations. Barbour also revealed there was a third sexual encounter. It happened the same night they first met, at a restaurant where Barbour fondled the girl under a table while her family sat nearby.

Barbour plead guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child - a misdemeanor. He is sentenced to 60 days in jail and 3 years probation. As part of the deal with the plea, Barbour would not have to register as a sex offender and only have to notify people of his conviction for the duration of his probation. So for only 3 years, Barbour would have to notify employers, casting agents, etc - that he groped a 15 year old girl.

The year is 2011.

James Barbour leaves the production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego after several new outlets begin reporting stories about his conviction. However, Barbour and the producers stated that he left to be with his wife during her pregnancy.

The year is 2015.

It is announced that James Barbour will replace Norm Lewis in the role of the Phantom in Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera.


I believe that we live in a world of second chances. But we also live in a world with the likes of Earl Bradley, Jerry Sandusky and allegedly, Bill Cosby. For these reasons, it is unconscionable as to why the producers and Tara Rubin Casting would overlook this and cast Barbour in this role. In all likelihood, it was an oversight on their part. While Barbour didn't have to legally disclose his conviction, someone in their offices should have done the due diligence to at least Google James Barbour.

Unfortunately the producers didn't take these steps but the steps they have taken, make them look even worse. After releasing a statement on their Facebook page, which makes little to no sense, they went a step further and started deleted negative reaction comments on the Facebook page.

It's my opinion, that casting and now standing by James Barbour, the producers of Phantom of the Opera and Tara Rubin Casting, demand families with children pay the salary of a convicted child groper. That they require female cast members, some of who were 15 or younger in 2001, to perform alongside a someone who once admitted he fondled a 15 year old girl..

We have come a long way, in a short period of time in properly addressing the reality and brutality that is sex abuse in this country. What the producers and Tara Rubin Casting have done is take a terrible step backward.

I find it an utter shame that Norm Lewis, one of the most distinguished performers on Broadway today and the first African-American to play the role on Broadway, will be followed by the first convicted child groper to play the role.

And while I wish I could say that you should all be there to give Mr. Lewis a standing ovation before he departs on Feb 7th, I cannot in good conscience endorse you to give a single penny to a show that casts and supports James Barbour.

Therefore I urge you, your friends and your families, to boycott Phantom of the Opera. I also urge theatre companies and producers to cease using Tara Rubin Casting for casting services.

For a community that is usually so proactive in taking a stance against crimes and injustice, this is a terrible move.

Now there will be some who will jump to defend Barbour. But what they don't realize is that performing on Broadway is not a right, it's a privilege. If Barbour used his profession to commit a crime, in this case a role in a Broadway musical, why should he ever be allowed in a Broadway show again?

Oh and if you're wondering how Barbour was even considered for this role? Tara Rubin Casting also cast Jane Eyre, the show where James Barbour used his stardom to commit a sex crime.