Phantom Crawford to be revived as £20m vampire
The London Times
August 12, 2001
By John Harlow
pays to be undead. Michael Crawford, who won international fame playing
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, is to become the world's
highest-paid theatre star in a show based on the 1967 film Dance of the
Negotiators for Crawford, who will be 60 next January, have made it clear
to the producers that he wants a "retirement package" of up
to £20m to play an aristocratic vampire falling in love with a woman.
The part would require him to be on stage for the next three years.
His pay packet would exceed the £12m he earned for his last regular
show - 700 appearances in the high-energy production EFX at the MGM Grand
hotel in Las Vegas, which ended prematurely with a hip injury in 1996.
The pay packet would also exceed the £15m that Michael Flatley,
43, is said to have made during his "farewell" Feet of Flames
tour which ended last month.
The prospect of a record payday reflects renewed confidence among American
theatre producers. Ticket sales last year were 20% up on 1999 and the
phenomenal New York success of The Producers, a stage version of the 1968
Mel Brooks film, revived interest in turning old films into live musicals.
Producers are pinning their biggest hopes and budgets on witty supernatural
stage shows, prompted by television hits such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Brooks will follow The Producers with an all-singing version of his Young
Frankenstein. His less successful Dracula: Dead and Loving It is to be
staged as a gay musical in San Francisco next year.
Roman Polanski's Dance of the Vampires, starring his wife Sharon Tate,
was one of the first intentionally comic horror movies and has been rewritten
by Jim Steinman. He also wrote Bat Out of Hell with Meatloaf, the outsized
rock singer, and Whistle Down the Wind with Lord Lloyd-Webber. Last week
Lloyd-Webber said the new show was an "erotic, Wagnerian musical
with lots of humour".
Steinman said he hoped a deal with Crawford was close. "He is a
towering talent and probably the biggest box office star in the theatre.
He would be worth every cent we can pay him."
Large-scale travelling shows used to be loss-makers but new technology,
such as folding sets and computerised light displays, can make them highly
John Caird, the director, who shared a Tony award with Trevor Nunn for
their New York production of Les Misérables, said the show would
make its debut on Broadway before transferring to Los Angeles and London.
A source close to Crawford said he had already learnt many of the songs
and was eager to get back to the stage "once a few financial and
scheduling details are worked out".
Having apparently lost the film role of The Phantom of the Opera to Antonio
Banderas, he is understood to be determined to play the undead count in
any remake of the Polanski film.Born Michael Patrick Dumble-Smith in Wiltshire,
Crawford changed his name in honour of his favourite brand of biscuits.
As a teenager he took part in Benjamin Britten's educational musical Let's
Make an Opera, and in the 1960s he starred in films such as The Knack
and How I Won the War, as well as playing opposite Barbra Streisand in
Hello Dolly! He was voted funniest man on television for his role as the
hapless Frank Spencer in the sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
He spent three months at the New York Circus School in preparation for
his role as the American showman P T Barnum in the musical Barnum which
was seen by 2.5m people in New York and London. In 1986 Lloyd-Webber cast
him as the tragic anti-hero of The Phantom of the Opera. It gave Lloyd-Webber
and the producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh their greatest hit.
Since he was replaced by David Cassidy in Las Vegas, Crawford has rarely
been seen on stage. Last year he sang Lloyd-Webber ballads on a tribute
night for Steven Spielberg in Los Angeles.
The news that Crawford may tread the boards again is a relief to his
followers. "Some people might think that musically he is a bit middle
of the road," said Jaime Winters, who runs one of Crawford's fan
clubs. "But he is an ambassador for Britain and we need him."