Michael Crawford fans hit the internet by the hundreds this past week, swamping Playbill On-Line's poll about who should play the title role in a forthcoming film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera.
The poll came in response to news reports that Warner Bros pictures is strongly considering Antonio Banderas for the role in the 1999 film. Banderas played Che in the 1996 film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita.
The poll was posted at noon June 17, and more than 100 responses were logged within the first 18 hours. The number had jumped to 500 by Friday, June 19, and topped 850 by June 24, making it the strongest response ever to a Playbill Poll.
Fans of Crawford -- the original Phantom in the West End and Broadway -- loaded the e-mail box of Playbill On-Line Managing Editor Robert Viagas, voicing support for Crawford to recreate his performance in the film. Compared his performance to that of Yul Brynner in The King and I and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, many said his performance was definitive and claimed they would not attend the film if it starred anyone other than Crawford. At least two fan-oriented Crawford/Phantom website appear to have been helping to orchestrate the write-in campaign.
However, a significant number of readers said they prefer someone other than Crawford, with Australian Phantom Anthony Warlow, Broadway-replacement Phantom Davis Gaines, Toronto Phantom Colm Wilkinson, Robert (Jekyll & Hyde) Cuccioli, Brian Stokes (Ragtime) Mitchell, Robert Guillaume, Franc D'Ambrosio, Gary Oldman, Brad Little, Mandy Patinkin -- even Michael Jackson -- drawing supporters. Banderas found a few supporters as well. Votes came in from across the US, Great Britain, Canada and Australia, with several more coming in from Japan, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Belgium and other countries.
Playbill Polls are not designed as scientific polls or votes, but are intended to stimulate debate about major theatrical issues of the day. Recent Playbill Polls asked theatregoers' opinions on Terrence McNally's controversial play Corpus Christi, about the role of public financing in the arts, and on the outcome of the 1998 Tony Awards.
In the interest of such debate, Playbill On-Line asked correspondents to write at least two sentences explaining why they preferred their choice for film Phantom.
However, many correspondents reacted to the June 17 poll on the Phantom film as an election or petition of sorts, and gathered support from friends and neighbors, many of whom did not have computers or e-mail addresses. E-mails that contained only a name and no other text were not posted.
To read the polls, search on the word "Phantom" in the U.S. Theatre News area, after the date June 17.