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"I always describe Hugh as a heart with legs.  He's a walking heart, like the giant heart costume I wore when I was a singing telegram delivery person. My valentine outfit was this padded pink heart with a place for my arms to come out, and that's exactly how I see him. A big heart with legs."  - Alice Ripley, Side Show

Hugh Panaro and Norm Lewis

Hugh Panaro has been described as "the leader of Broadway’s dwindling supply of great leading men." Critically lauded and adored by fans, he demonstrates versatility, charisma, tremendous vocal talent, and, in the words of one former costar, movie star good looks.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 19, 1964, Hugh's love of animals interested him in a career in veterinary medicine. However, after seeing his first Broadway show, Hugh immediately fell in love with theatre. His first role, Friedrich, in a regional production of The Sound of Music, came when he was twelve.

Hugh, who was a church organist at Saint Helena's Roman Catholic Church during high school and accompanied his mother on the organ or piano at weddings, studied music at Temple University (BA in voice, class of '85)

Moving to New York City immediately after graduation, Hugh quickly found a role in I Have Found Home. He played a German immigrant in the show which took place on a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. He later obtained his Equity card with the role of Mary Sunshine in regional production of Chicago In 1988, Hugh originated the role of Marius Pontmercy in the first national touring production of Les Misérables, moving up to the Broadway company several months later. He was then cast by Hal Prince as Raoul de Chagny, the romantic young hero in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical The Phantom of the Opera. His next role was as Julian Craster in Jules Styne's final musical, the ill-fated The Red Shoes in 1993.  Subsequent roles included Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat (Broadway, Toronto, and London), Buddy Foster in the original production of Side Show, and David in the independent film, Broadway Damage.

In 1999, Hugh returned to the Majestic Theatre, this time to don the iconic mask in The Phantom of the Opera. Six months later, he originated the title role in the U.S. tour of Martin Guerre. Following the tour, Hugh drew praise for performances in Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Merrily We Roll Along in Los Angeles and as Anthony Hope in the Kennedy Center's 2002 production of Sweeney Todd.

After an off-Broadway run in LaChiusa's Little Fish, Hugh returned to play The Phantom in 2003. One of the most popular actors to fill the role, he remained with the show until October 2005, leaving to play the seductive, conflicted vampire Lestat in the Elton John musical based on Anne Rice's successful novels.

In autumn 2006, Hugh was invited to play Bobby in the 5th Avenue Theater (Seattle) production of Sondheim's pivotal musical, Company. His performance was praised as "exquisitely accomplished." Following Company, Hugh has appeared in a number of concerts, including benefit shows at Joe's Pub, Birdland Jazz Club, and City Center.

In 2008, he starred as Jean Valjean in the Walnut Street Theatre's outstanding production of Les Misérables, a role which earned him praise from audiences and reviewers alike, as well as the Barrymore award.  The following spring, he played the title role in the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Sunday In The Park With George He then starred in Oliver!, again at The Walnut in his native Philly, and also maintained an active concert schedule performing with symphonies around the world.

On September 7, 2010, Hugh returned to Broadway's Majestic Theatre to again play the iconic Phantom and led the show's historic 25th anniversary performance.

 In 2012, he was the recipient of the prestigious Edwin Forrest Award.

During an extended break from Phantom in 2013,  he was again seen as Jean Valjean in The Muny's summer production of Les Misérables (opposite friend and Side Show costar Norm Lewis).  He left the role of The Phantom in May of 2014.  His debut album is in the works at last.

His genuine charm and humility, matched with a gorgeous smile, have made him a true fan favorite at many stage doors. While Hugh embraced a career in the theatre over one as a veterinarian, he remains a self-described animal freak with a particular fondness for dogs.