Speculation has intensified over who will be the lead actor in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera. Lloyd Webber 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 is a New York Times story (July 16) that the actor has 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.)
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. A recent Playbill On-Line poll showed readers overwhelmingly in favor of casting original stage Phantom Michael Crawford.
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 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."
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 opened to mixed reviews and strong houses 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.