Oh NO! Not The Phantom of the Opera movie again! I know what you're thinking. We've all been beaten to death with this, still we're all in a state of Limbo. And I'm not even a huge Phantom Phan, and even a lesser Lloyd Webber fan. However, the magic of The Phantom of the Opera has enthralled audiences worldwide and continues to do so in New York with over 90% capacity even after 10 years.

The other day I'm listening to the radio and I hear Michael Crawford singing "The Music of the Night." It was just shortly after I had read 2 articles about Antonio Banderas in major newspapers. I'm not in the Michael Crawford fanclub or involved with the infamous "Phantom Movie Campaign" or whatever they're called. Anyhow, listening to Crawford took me back to 1988 when Phantom was the hottest ticket in town.

A friend of mine was understudying on Broadway for Madame Giry in the Broadway production. She was also in the chorus. So, Patrice Pickering, who is still in the Broadway production to this day, invited me and a friend to see the show and get a backstage tour. She was going on as Madame Giry that night and I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I really had no interest in seeing the production for some reason. I soon changed my tune though.

Michael Crawford simply blew me away. I mean, he was the Phantom and his singing was, and still is, sensational. Patrice was pretty good too. Crawford was rewarded with a Tony Award the following June for his portrayal and remains one of the landmark performances of all time.

Afterward Patrice and I walked on the stage and I asked her where the huge staircase was. She pointed to the firewall and there it was, hanging there folded flatter than a pancake.

As it turned out it was a memorable evening in the theater. And every time I hear Crawford sing that song I'm transported back in time and realize how very good he was in the role.

And now there is the ever constant and ever annoying film project. Warner Brothers makes no statements and Andrew Lloyd Webber says nothing. Yet, Antonio Banderas is quoted in newspapers as saying he has the role, has met up with Webber and Shakur Kapur, the director of the upcoming film version of the Broadway musical, and that he will be playing the Phantom despite the boos from the fans of Crawford whom he respects. On top of this, USA Today stated that there is nothing in writing to guarantee that he has the role.

First off, I like Antonio Banderas. I think he did a superb job in Zorro and in the not so mega-musical Evita. But, for him to allow himself, and I'm sure he's thought about this, to be cast as the Phantom rather than Raoul, is a major mistake. He'll go down in history just as Lucille Ball did with Mame. He's a perfect Raoul and I don't understand why he does not see this. And now, dear readers, I'll tell you why he should not play the Phantom.

First off, Antonio is in a "no win" situation. Comparisons will be made to Michael Crawford and most people have the perception that Michael is the Phantom. Even if he does an exceptional job he'll be criticized. On top of that if the film is not an artistic or box office success he'll be blamed for that as well.

His age is another problem, the good-looking Banderas is too young for the role. The Phantom should be played by a more mature man (Crawford?). His youthful appearance makes him perfect casting for Raoul. No question. He's a movie star and will put butts in the seats, just as will Crawford. Now, you may question Crawford's ability to sell tickets. Well, he's been doing exactly that throughout the world with his concerts for the last year.

And finally, Antonio possesses a mediocre singing voice. Not that it's bad, it just does not have the range that is required to sing "The Music of the Night. " I would hope that he considers all of this and makes the right choice.

What would be satisfying to us theater-fans would be if RUG and Webber videotaped Phantom with Crawford in the stage role he created. They did this with Cats with great success; then we wouldn't care how they cast the Hollywood film. Many say the movie musical is dead, and perhaps it is. With Crawford as the Phantom and Banderas as Raoul, at least they'd have a shot of bringing back life to this artform. Otherwise, it looks D.O.A. to me.

Let's hope Warner Brothers or Andrew Lloyd Webber makes an official statement sometime soon. At least we could get on with our lives and cease all this silly talk over who's going to play the Phantom.

See you Friday!

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