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Why Producers Get Ulcers

On its website, the Manhattan Theatre Club announces it thus:

By Terrence McNally
Directed by Joe Mantello

Manhattan Theatre Club is proud to present Corpus Christi, our ninth play by Tony award winning playwright Terrence McNally. From modern day Corpus Christi, Texas, to ancient Jerusalem, we follow a young gay man named Joshua on his spiritual journey. And we get to know the twelve disciples who choose to follow him. In this world premiere, Terrence McNally gives us his own unique view of the "greatest story ever told".

The Manhattan Theatre Club is a class act - justifiably one of the country's most acclaimed theatre organizations. One of the few institutions in the United States dedicated solely to producing new plays and musicals, every season MTC lives up to its claim that it develops and presents works of the highest quality by both established and emerging American and international playwrights.

That MTC would ever bow to terrorist threats over Corpus Christi was unthinkable. Until it did. You remember the bruhaha several weeks ago, which culminated in this press release:


Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer) has decided to proceed as originally scheduled with the production this fall of Terrence McNally's new play Corpus Christi, subject to final confirmation from the Police Department of adequate security measures. That confirmation is expected shortly.

Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove said, "After information about the play appeared prematurely in the press, we received numerous death threats to Mr. McNally, and finally, a threat to exterminate the author, the staff, and our audiences, and 'burn the building to the ground'. We acted promptly and quickly to protect everyone involved, and we announced we could not proceed responsibly to produce the play at this time. We were outraged by a subsequent outcry which accused the Manhattan Theatre Club of censorship. In our 25 year history, we have never censored a play or turned down a play because of content. In the face of these accusations, we took steps to further evaluate what has always been the only issue for us: safety and security. Within the last 24 hours, we have been in contact with New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir and his Intelligence Division which have been overwhelmingly supportive in stepping in to aid our endeavors and to give us the reasonable assurances we need to produce this play responsibly and safely.

"We are happy to report today that Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi has been reinstated to our fall schedule. The production dates will be announced."

Playwright Athol Fugard said, "I have boundless admiration for Lynne Meadow's courage and would be absolutely delighted to bring back my play, The Captain's Tiger, to the Manhattan Theatre Club."

Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove said, "The events of the last days have reminded us that freedom of speech and supporting writers is what Manhattan Theatre Club has stood for 25 years and what we will continue to be about."

Okay. Now that we have the context, let's present a hypothetical. Suppose the reason MTC had postponed Corpus Christi several times over the last several years was simply that the play wasn't ready for production. And suppose that MTC, knowing the play still wasn't quite ready, initially scheduled it this season out of some misguided sense of loyalty to Terrence McNally. And suppose, after the first week of rehearsal, it is very clear that Corpus Christi is really, really not ready for production. (The words "dull" and "boring" might apply.) Would you, if you were MTC, (1) pretend that everything was just fine and open the play knowing full well you had a real bomb on your hands, or (2) try to figure out some way to cancel the production without openly admitting that the play stinks or invoking the criticism that you were in some way censoring the work of a gifted playwright?

What would you do?

The Three Phantoms: Tidbits. Antonio Banderas as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera film, right? Wrong! It's been all over the web and in magazines that Banderas would now play the coveted role of the Phantom in the Warner Bros. forthcoming film, but there is absolutely no truth to it. None whatsovever, and I don't care what you've heard or read, even if it is from Banderas' press people. He simply does not have the role locked up. There are no contracts signed, and it's simply wishful thinking.

Years ago Andrew Lloyd Webber promised the film role to Michael Crawford. It was a gentleman's agreement and nothing was in writing, but it's a well known fact (this, of course, pre-supposed that Webber would retain final approval on casting). Some people think that Crawford is now too old for the role, but that is ridiculous. And his voice is in A-1 condition as I witnessed recently at his concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Davis Gaines, in an interview in InTheater magazine, commented on the anti-Antonio brigade. "They don't think he should do it, but if he can sing it, that's great." Raising an eyebrow he stated, "who knows if he can sing it?" Davis is currently playing the Phantom in Los Angeles.

Banderas in the role of the Phantom does not spell blockbuster. Oh, he's a Hollywood name and did a nice turn in Zorro, but the guy can't sing like a Crawford or a Gaines... or at least, not yet (press reports say he's going to take lessons). As far as Davis, we love him as theater fans, but quite frankly, who will pay $7.50 to see Davis Gaines in a film? Nobody. So that excludes him. Crawford, on the other hand, is bankable for many reasons.

First off, Michael is the original ALW Phantom, and that is worth millions in publicity. The whole world is waiting for him to do this on film, absolutely no doubt. Another Evita is not what anyone wants. (Evita was a boring film to say the least. Know anyone renting it? I don't.) Crawford won a Tony for this role on Broadway. It's a role he created and passed on down to others. Yet, when the word Phantom pops into a conversation, the first name that comes to mind is Crawford.

Talkin' Broadway supports Michael Crawford in the role of the Phantom in the movie The Phantom of the Opera, and there can be no compromises. If he doesn't get the role he deserves, and was promised by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I see a disaster on the horizon. This case is so simple. You see, it simply won't work without Crawford in my opinion. So even if Warners has issued no statements, (and why should they when they have a worldwide buzz going on?), the project is very real and considered to be an important one.

Casting Crawford just might be another Titanic - no pun intended.

See you Thursday!

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