The legions of Michael Crawford fans--and if the number of World Wide Web sites devoted to the English actor are any indication, “multitudes” might be a more correct description--will be delighted by his first television special, “Michael Crawford in Concert.” The PBS program, taped at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, places Crawford front and center in a performance filled with both his singing and his reminiscences.
For those who know Crawford only as the originator of the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” the range and the depth of his performance may come as a surprise. Because, at 56, Crawford is neither a recent arrival nor a one-hit artist. His long international career stretches from English television sitcoms in the ‘60s through film roles in, among many others, “Hello, Dolly!” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” to the musicals “Billy” and “Barnum.” He finally made his breakthrough to wider public visibility in 1986 with “Phantom,” winning a shelf full of awards topped by a Tony for best actor in a musical, and playing the role, by his own reckoning, “more than 1,300 times.”
Given his colorful, checkered career, Crawford’s announcement at the start of the special that he plans to include talk about his life and times as well as his songs makes for an intriguing preface. But, except for a few stories illustrating his dry, whimsical humor, he spends a lot more time with the music than with personal revelations. (Many of his fans, for example, might have been fascinated to hear his version of the circumstances surrounding his injury during a performance of the show “EFX” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.)
Still, a performer with Crawford’s skills doesn’t really need to do much more than sing to command the attention of an audience. And he does that superbly in a program rich with Lloyd Webber songs, as well as material from his new, about-to-be-released Atlantic album, “On Eagle’s Wings.”
One of his most impressive renderings, the powerful “Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” is especially enlightening--a penetrating insight into the aria that transcends the paucity of musical imagination in Lloyd Webber’s setting of the words.
Crawford is equally effective with “Tonight” from “West Side Story” and “Love Changes Everything” from “Aspects of Love.” On two numbers, he is joined by soprano Dale Christian, whose lush, resonant sound provides the perfect match for Crawford’s airy tenor.
His dark and moody interpretation of “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera” is, predictably, the highlight of the special. After more than 1,000 passages through the number, Crawford still commands its music and its drama. Here, as in the show itself, it is a classic example of the intensity that can be generated by a great musical theater performer singing a great musical number.
* “Michael Crawford in Concert” airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on KCET-TV Channel 28. It repeats on March 9 at 8 p.m.