With the casting of Antonio Banderas as The Phantom in Warner Brothers' Phantom of the Opera movie looking more and more likely, fans of Michael Crawford are picking up the pace of their protests. One group, "The Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Campaign," intends to rally at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios, 4000 Olive Avenue in Burbank, CA, Aug. 7 & 8, starting at 9 AM (PT).
Campaign head Diane Flogerzi wrote to Playbill On-Line to note, "Oscar winners Rex Harrison, Yul Brynner, and Joel Grey all brought their legendary, Tony Award-winning performances to the screen, and their films were successful. If Michael Crawford's exquisite performance as The Phantom is recorded for posterity, it will join this list of artistically and financially successful classics."
An excerpt from the MCPMC website, called the "Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Page" (http://www.av.qnet.com/~smf/phantom.htm) reads, "If Michael Crawford does not star in the upcoming movie, Phantom of the Opera, we will take part in a boycott of this movie and of The Really Useful Group. ...We will think long and hard about seeing any Warner Bros. movies for the forseeable future, unless of course they do come to their senses and decide to cast Michael."
The group is in no way affiliated with the actor or his official fan club or Playbill On-Line. Respondents to a recent Playbill On-Line poll overwhelmingly expressed a preference for Crawford to star in the Phantom film.
For months, several homemade Phantom websites have voiced concern over the probability that Crawford would not be cast in the role he made famous (at one point, John Travolta appeared to be the lead candidate for the film). Andrew Lloyd Webber's spokesperson Daniel Bee (of Brown Lloyd James in London) confirmed again (July 16) the widely-reported rumor that a front-runner for the masked man is Antonio Banderas, who starred in the film version of Evita. "He's very keen on the role, and we are in discussions, but that's the last I've heard," said Bee.
Adding further fuel to the Banderas fire was a New York Times story (July 16) that the actor quit work on a film about Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk due to protests by the Greek community. Banderas' publicist, Robin Baum, told the Times her client wanted "to devote his full energy to Phantom of the Opera." Reached by Playbill On-Line (July 17), a spokesperson from Baum's office confirmed the above quote but had no further information to add.
Playbill On-Line called Warner Brothers' marketing department to ask about the casting but was told the film "wasn't even on our list." (Generally, films in preproduction aren't handled by the studio's p.r. department.)
Back in late 1997, Variety asked the composer about the persistent rumor that John Travolta was mulling taking the lead in the Phantom film. Lloyd Webber confirmed that ongoing meetings had been taking place. Webber said the goal was to make sure "Travolta is entirely confident that he can deliver it, because there can be no question of fiddling with this one" (a reference to changes made to the Madonna film of Evita).
Earlier last summer, websites were abuzz over the idea of Travolta starring in the film. The "No Film Of Phantom" campaign targeted Warner Brothers and the Really Useful Company with a letter writing and e-mail campaign in the hopes of changing the studio's mind about their casting choice for the deformed maestro.
According to one website, the Travolta rumor started when the actor, on a May 19 UK television interview from the Cannes Film Festival, revealed that he was seriously considering the part and was scheduled to meet with composer Webber. When the commentator -- who said Crawford had been passed over for the role -- asked Travolta if he could handle such an operatic role, Travolta replied that Erik the Phantom would be "easier to sing" than the light pop songs in Grease because you could "give your whole heart and soul and annunciation and pronouciation to the words" of operatic songs."
But that's not the only Phantom news; although Lloyd Webber is busy in the wake of the recent London opening of a revised Whistle Down The Wind, he's turned up the flame on another long standing project: the sequel to his monster hit, The Phantom of the Opera.
"It's not called a sequel, it's called a `continuation.'" said Lloyd Webber spokesperson Peter Brown (Apr. 27), who also said work had not yet gotten underway on the piece. "It's about what happens to Christine and the Phantom after the first show ends." Asked to comment on rumors that the as-yet untitled Phantom II takes place in New York, Brown said, "Nothing of that nature has been determined yet."
Associated Press reported that espionage novelist Frederick Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File) is writing up the storyline for the show, due "late next year." Brown denied AP's report that Forsyth would publish a novella prior to the production. Brown also said Forsyth's task would be to create a storyline, not do the actual libretto. "We have to get a story first," said Brown. "And Forsyth is writing it alone but in consultation with Lloyd Webber." No time frame is given for the musical's progress.
Among Forsyth's other works: "The Day of the Jackal," "The Deceiver," "The Dogs of War," "The Fist of God" and "The Fourth Protocol," nearly all involving spies and/or assasination plots.
On Apr. 7, at a special 50th birthday celebration for the composer (born Mar. 22), soprano Kiri Te Kanawa sang a new Lloyd Webber song, "The Heart Is Slow To Learn." Sources previously reported that the tune was from the upcoming sequel to Phantom, but spokesperson Brown told Playbill On Line, "it's just a song... there really is no Phantom II at this point."