Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose four productions of "Phantom of the Opera" in North America are grossing more than $3 million a week, has decided to postpone the making of the film version of the musical until next summer.
The announcement on Friday caused further speculation that the July breakup of Lloyd Webber's six-year marriage to singer Sarah Brightman, the original star of the stage version, would cause her to be dropped from the film's lead.
The delay also fueled talk in Los Angeles that the show's original Phantom, Michael Crawford, would return to the Los Angeles stage production sometime around the first of the year.
On Friday, Lloyd Webber's longtime associate, publicist and friend, Peter Brown, told The Times that the movie will indeed be delayed, but he insisted that Brightman would be in the film in the singing role that was written expressly for her by Lloyd Webber.
Brown said Warner Bros. and Webber's production company, the Really Useful Group Ltd., have decided to hold off making the film until at least next summer. Warner and director Joel Schumacher had anticipated going into production in Europe by December, with a projected release in November, 1991.
"There are a number of commercial issues still to be resolved between the Really Useful Group and Warner Bros., but we are confident that these will eventually be settled in order that the film may commence shooting in the summer of 1991, with the cast as originally envisaged," Brown said.
The cast, he stated, means Michael Crawford repeating his starring role as the Phantom and Brightman as opera singer Christine Daae, the woman of the Phantom's desire.
Brown said Lloyd Webber "emphasized that neither he nor Sarah Brightman would wish the breakdown of their marriage to, in any way, affect their continuing professional relationship."
Brown said he could not elaborate on what the "commercial" issues still to be resolved regarding "Phantom" might be. But there has been speculation in the theater and film community that the film version may have come about too rapidly, considering that there are nine companies of the musical playing around the world, all doing huge business. The North American productions are in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Chicago.
With news of the movie delay, there was renewed talk in Los Angeles that Crawford might return to the production at the Ahmanson Theatre, now starring Robert Guillaume. Crawford left the show last spring after giving his 1,000th performance as the Phantom.
Spokeswoman for the L.A. "Phantom," Anne Abrams, said Guillaume's contract runs through Dec. 30. She said she had no knowledge of what will happen after that date, but she said tickets are being sold through March.
The delay of "Phantom" as a film comes at a time of continued stress for Lloyd Webber and his musical empire. In spring, he lost the service of one of his closest production executives and confidantes, Bridget (Biddy) Hayward, who reportedly departed because Lloyd Webber was talking about making movies instead of composing for the theater. Hayward's departure was damaging enough--but then in June six other Really Useful employees resigned en masse, and announced their intention of joining Hayward's new company.
On the other hand, Lloyd Webber's movie activity seemed to be on the rise.
Twelve years after the London premiere of "Evita," there are talks under way between Walt Disney Studios, Lloyd Webber, producer Robert Stigwood and lyricist Tim Rice for a production of "Evita" that would cast pop music star Madonna in the title role as the ambitious, star-struck wife of former Argentina President Juan Peron.
And nine years after the London opening of "Cats" a deal was announced in June by film producer-director Steven Spielberg and Lloyd Webber to adapt the show as an animated feature film for Universal Pictures.
Freelance writer David Gritten in London contributed to this article.