Dance Of The Vampires

Phantom Crawford to be revived as £20m vampire
The London Times
August 12, 2001
By John Harlow

SOMETIMES it 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 Vampires.

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 profitable.

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."