SALT LAKE CITY — Actor Quentin Oliver Lee’s life looks completely different today than it did five years ago.

After graduating from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, Lee moved to New York City with a dream in his head and hardly a dollar to his name. He was single, couch-surfed to save up money and spent his days singing in the subway to afford food.

Fast forward five years, and Lee is starring as the Phantom in the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” and is married to a “charming and wonderful” woman, as Lee puts it, in Utah native and fellow performer Angie Lee Graham.

“To go from (singing in the subway) to all of the sudden five years later being in front of 2,000-plus people a day to standing ovations in the most iconic role in probably Broadway history is humbling,” said Lee, who has been performing as the Phantom since December. “… Anytime I think about it, I’m sort of taken aback.”

Quentin Oliver Lee as the Phantom, left, and Eva Tavares as Christine Daaé in the national touring company of "The Phantom of the Opera."
Quentin Oliver Lee as the Phantom, left, and Eva Tavares as Christine Daaé in the national touring company of "The Phantom of the Opera." | Matthew Murphy

And as Lee makes his way to his wife’s home state to perform at Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater July 11-22, that humbling experience will likely continue as his wife is sure her family and friends will be there to cheer Lee on.

“I know that the first week (of the run in Salt Lake) especially, all the extended family, the great-aunts, the great-uncles, my best friend and his family and my friends from college — everyone’s going,” Graham said.

“Pretty much everybody,” Lee added with a nervous laugh.

For Lee, performing in front of family has its pros and cons. Although he’s excited and knows they’ll love him no matter what, it can also be a bit nerve-wracking.

“I would much prefer to not know anybody in the audience,” Lee adamantly declared. “… As an actor, the whole goal is to just be the character in the given circumstance, … but when you have friends and family and bosses coming to see the show, sometimes it can be a little more difficult because people you know and love and care about are going to be thinking about what you’re doing.”

Quentin Oliver Lee, left, and his wife, Angie Lee Graham. Lee plays the Phantom in the national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which will be making a stop in his wife's home state of Utah July 11-22 at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.
Quentin Oliver Lee, left, and his wife, Angie Lee Graham. Lee plays the Phantom in the national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which will be making a stop in his wife's home state of Utah July 11-22 at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. | Provided by Quentin Oliver Lee

Utah became a sort of home by extension for Lee when he and Graham married three years ago. Lee, a native of San Bernardino, California, met Graham, a native of Orem, at the Harlem young single adult ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while they were both living in New York City.

As Graham remembers it, she first saw Lee at a ward activity and asked her roommate who he was. Her roommate responded: “Oh, that’s Quentin. He sings opera. You should date him.”

“And in my mind I thought, ‘Oh yeah. I am going to date him,’” Graham said, “because he was just very charismatic and good with people — and tall, dark and handsome.”

The couple officially met in 2014 at a family home evening activity and connected over their careers — at the time, Lee had just returned from performing in the first national tour of “Porgy and Bess” and Graham had recently graduated with a master’s in acting — and married in August 2015.

Although their careers have allowed them to be near each other at times, Lee and Graham have also experienced long periods of time apart, including 10 weeks last year when Lee was performing on Broadway in “Prince of Broadway” and Graham was directing a show in Hong Kong.

Angie Lee Graham, left, and Quentin Oliver Lee on their wedding day. Both are professional actors and met at a singles ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City.
Angie Lee Graham, left, and Quentin Oliver Lee on their wedding day. Both are professional actors and met at a singles ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City. | Provided by Quentin Oliver Lee

“We were 12 hours apart, on complete opposite sides of the world and that was really challenging,” Graham said.

The couple faced a similar dilemma when Lee got the lead role in “The Phantom of the Opera.” Lee left on tour and Graham stayed in New York for a while, but the two soon decided that being physically in the same place was more important.

“After a month and after a lot of pondering and prayer about it, I just decided it was really best for our marriage for me to go on tour with him, and I feel very strongly that it’s definitely been for the best,” Graham said. “… (Now) I am playing the ever-important role of supportive wife on tour.”

“I really appreciate Angie’s willingness to just be out here on the road with me even though that sometimes means she can’t always go to all the auditions she’d like to go to or direct as many shows as she is used to directing,” Lee said appreciatively. “… (When we were apart), there was this huge difference in what I accomplished on a day-to-day basis, how I felt mentally and how we felt spiritually together. Having her here on tour has been a godsend.”

Lee considers the opportunity to play the Phantom an honor. Actor Norm Lewis, who was the first African-American to play the Phantom on Broadway, is one of Lee’s role models, and Lee feels lucky to be able to follow in his footsteps as he brings the iconic role to stages across the United States.

“It’s nuts,” Lee said with awe. “… We have the opportunity as actors to give people these empathetic experiences where they learn to feel mercy and to understand somebody who is misunderstood (and) I do it 8 times a week. … It blows my mind.” And Lee isn’t the only one who considers his role an honor.

“Every time I get to see (the show) I’m just so proud I almost want to scream it to the audience nearby that he’s my husband,” Graham said. “I get to see him play the role but he’s so good at it that I am also transformed in that when I watch him onstage, I don’t see my husband onstage as much as I see the character of the Phantom. The fact that I also get to be transported into this world, it’s really remarkable.”

The national touring company of "The Phantom of the Opera" performs "Masquerade."
The national touring company of "The Phantom of the Opera" performs "Masquerade." | Alastair Muir

If you go …

What: The national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera”

Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City

When: July 11-22, dates and times vary

How much: Remaining tickets are limited, call for pricing

Phone: 801-355-2787

Web: artsaltlake.org