A director is still being sought for the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, but speculation has intensified over who will be the lead actor. Lloyd Webber spokesperson Peter Brown confirms (Apr. 27) the widely-reported rumor that a front-runner for the masked man is Antonio Banderas, who starred in the film version of Evita. No official announcements will come, though, until a director is selected.
At least some fans are unhappy about the Banderas rumor and have launched an online campaign to stop it. The Save Phantom From Hollywood website and Diane Flogerzi's Phantom Movie Page website, which have been campaigning against the previous leading contender, John Travolta, have fixed their sights on Banderas, whom the sites say is not up to the role.
Phantom of the Opera purists have insisted from the beginning that only original stage Phantom Michael Crawford would be acceptable in the Warner Brothers film. Two weeks ago, Dana Parsons, a Los Angeles Times columnist, ran a pro-Crawford fan's letter and has since been inundated with responses. In a follow-up article (Apr. 29), Parsons wrote of receiving, "dozens of phone calls, letters and electronic mail insisted in varying degrees that no one but Crawford play the role. Not a dissenting vote was cast. This is a cause without a rebel."
[A sample e-mail received by Parsons: "Do you realize that there are a lot of Michael maniacs between here, England and Australia that are counting on the power of your column to help sway Warner Bros. and [Webber's production company] regarding the casting of Banderas as the Phantom?"]
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 -- and a-flame -- 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 onslaught in the hopes of changing the studio's mind about their casting choice for the deformed maestro.
Webber spokesperson Peter Brown wouldn't comment on Travolta or Crawford but told Playbill On-Line (June 19, 1997) "Warner Brothers is still searching for a director and leading man, as soon as we have those, we'll be a go, very quickly."
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."
Lloyd Webber missed the tenth anniversary celebration of the original Phantom on Broadway in January, due to an abdominal illness he's been battling for decades. Asked about Webber's condition, spokesperson Brown said (Apr. 27) "He seems fine now; it can really vary, but he's certainly up and back working."
But that's not the only Phantom news; although Lloyd Webber is busy readying Whistle Down The Wind for its London reincarnation in July, 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."
The latest news, first reported by Associated Press (Apr. 27), is 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, though the likelihood is work won't start in earnest until Whistle Down The Wind opens in July.
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."
As for Whistle Down The Wind, the show officially began rehearsals Apr. 27. Marcus Lovett and Lottie Mayor will star in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revised musical, which opens at the Aldwych Theatre July 1. The initial booking period will run to Oct. 1.
The cast includes Lovett (Aspects of Love on Broadway) as "The Man" and Lottie Mayor (Aspects of Love in the West End) as "Swallow". Both starred in Webber's Whistle at the Sydmonton Festival. Other members of the company include Dean Collins as Amos, Veronica Hart as Candy, James Graeme as Boone, Walter Reynolds as Edward, and John Turner as Sheriff Cookridge.
For information and tickets call the Aldwych Theatre at (0171) 416-6000 @e revised production, directed by Gale Edwards with music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Jim Steinman, will see its premiere at the Aldwych Theatre.
The musical is inspired by Richard Attenborough's 1961 film from the Mary Hayley Bell novel of the same name, in which three farm children discover a man hiding in a barn and believe that he is Jesus. Lloyd Webber, Steinman and Patricia Knop (co-book writer with Lloyd Webber) have taken the original story and reset it in the American Deep South, specifically Louisiana, in 1959.
Edwards is responsible for the recent production of Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, which had an extended run at the Lyceum Theatre. Peter Davison will be in charge of set design and Anthony van Laast of choreography. Van Laast's credits include the London Palladium production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Costume design for Whistle Down the Wind is by Roger Kirk, lighting design by Mark McCullough, musical supervision by Mike Reed, production musical direction by Simon Lee, orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber.