Theatrical singer and actor
For years an accomplished British actor in films, television, and stage musicals, Michael Crawford blossomed into full theater legend in the late 1980s with his impassioned performance as the Phantom in composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Phantom of the Opera. Though still enjoying a steady string of sold-out performances, The Phantom of the Opera is already one of the most popular musicals in stage history and would surely have done quite well even without Crawford. But audiences and critics alike seem to agree that Crawford is tailor-made for the role, as though he were born and trained to someday play the Phantom.
In the words of the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Kilian, Crawford “seems as married to his part as was Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight or Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady” or, one might add, as Yul Brenner in The King and I or Zero Mostel as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. And after more than 600 performances in the exhausting role and a triumphant Broadway opening that brought promises of sold-out performances far into the future, Crawford couldn’t even begin to think about winding down his career as the Phantom. To the contrary, he felt he was just warming to the part. “I don’t want to leave it yet,” the actor told Kilian. “I’m still in love with doing it. I’m eating it up. I’ve done it now for a year and three-quarters and I’m not a bit tired of it.”
A recluse as a child, Crawford grew up as Michael Dumbell-Smith in difficult circumstances in the areas around London and Kent. His father was an RAF pilot who was killed in World War II before Michael was born, and his mother, remarried to a grocery-store owner, died when Crawford was twenty-one. The boy nonetheless had a happy home life that sustained him until he was swept away with a passion for singing and performing. He was just a twelve-year-old choir boy when he won a role with a touring company in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s Let’s Make an Opera, and by age fifteen he had changed his surname to Crawford and dropped out of school altogether to perform radio plays for the BBC.
In 1962 Crawford made his West End stage debut in a production of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn, but in the following years he made his mark primarily in films and television. He appeared in such films as The Knack and John Lennon’s black comedy How I Won the War, as well as the popular British television series Some Mothers Do ’ave ’em. His 1967 Broadway debut in Black Comedy brought Crawford to the attention of Gene Kelly, who was casting the film version of Hello, Dolly. To impress Kelly, one of the greatest dancers in film and stage history, Crawford began practicing his
Name originally Michael Dumbell-Smith, born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England; son of an RAF pilot and housewife; married Gabrielle Lewis, 1965 (divorced); children: Lucy and Emma.
Attended choir school as a child; won role in musical “Let’s Make an Opera” at age 12; dropped out of school at 15 to perform in radio plays for the BBC; made stage debut at age 20 in “Come Blow Your Horn”; appeared in films The Knack, How I Won the War, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Hello, Dolly, and No Sex, Please— We’re British; appeared in British television program “Some Mothers Do ’ave ’em”; appeared in British version of stage musical “Barnum”; won lead role in original cast of The Phantom of the Opera, 1986—.
Awards: All for the The Phantom of the Opera— Tony Award, 1988; Drama Desk Award, 1988; Outer Critics Award, 1988; Circle Award, 1988; Drama League Award, 1988; Olivier Award, 1988. Also named to the Order of the British Empire.
Addresses: Office —c/o Chatto & Linnit, Ltd. Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry St., London WC2, England.
soft-shoe with his customary obsessiveness—and it paid off. He won the role of a goofy shop assistant opposite Barbara Streisand. He also had parts in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the British farce No Sex Please — We’re British.
But the intensity with which Crawford approached his burgeoning acting career were also placing a strain on his personal life. Crawford and his wife, Gabrielle, were married in 1965 and had two children, daughters Lucy and Emma. But a series of financial setbacks, brought on mostly by Crawford’s overly ambitious business manager, placed a strain on their marriage. Crawford found solace in his work, to the neglect of his family. “I went into the theater at 12:30 in the afternoon,” he told People’s Andrea Chambers. “I needed the feeling of being there, but Gabrielle wanted me home… The breakup was so painful I’m not sure I’d marry again.” The Crawfords were divorced in 1975, but they remain close friends, and both daughters are following their father into show business.
While Crawford was enjoying a four-year run with the English production of Barnum in the early 1980s, he was unwittingly auditioning for the choice role in The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the London theater mogul who has penned the scores of some of the stage’s most elaborate and successful productions, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats, had heard Crawford and was impressed with his vocal range, a quality that made him a candidate for the Phantom role, which calls for oscillations from baritone to falsetto. Lloyd Webber invited Crawford over to hear some of the Phantom score, and the composer immediately liked the actor as much as the actor liked the part.
It took a little convincing to get producer Cameron Mackintosh to accept Crawford in the lead, but once he did, Crawford began intensive training for the role. He took vocal lessons to give more breadth to his range, and he began an examination of the character to find out how best to convey the tormented inner soul beneath the mask of the Phantom. In the story, which is based on Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel of the same name, the Phantom is an incredibly gifted composer and conducter who, because of his grotesquely disfigured face and body, is forced to live a lonely and sullen life in the shadows of the Paris Opera. His rage against the injustice of his life is taken out on the members of the opera company who perform there, but the Phantom eventually falls in love with the beautiful young ingenue Christine Daae, who helps bring the story to its chilling conclusion.
The role of the mysterious and horrifying Phantom presented Crawford with a unique acting challenge. Normally, an actor’s most expressive instrument is his face, but since the Phantom’s face is covered with a mask Crawford must find other ways to express the character. As the Chicago Tribune’s Kilian writes, Crawford “must express the most painful emotions with his face hidden beneath a partial mask and three layers of latex, his eyes clouded with eerily colored contact lenses. To accomplish this, he makes artful use of his body, employing the arch of his back, the strong set of his stance and dramatic gestures of hands and fingers to express the tormented character within.” To make this imposing figure visually authentic, Crawford undergoes a rigorous daily regimen in the makeup room, where, for two hours, a team of handlers applies the ghastly facial textures and cloaks him in the Phantom costume. Then, practically blinded by the contact lenses, he must make his way around the elaborate set, which includes trapdoors, narrow ramps, falling chandeliers, and smoky caverns. Though the Phantom is only onstage for about thirty minutes of the production, by the end of the show Crawford is drained to exhaustion.
The dream role of the Phantom has brought Crawford unexpected dividends in addition to the obvious. He recorded an album with Columbia, entitled Michael Crawford: Songs from the Stage and Screen, which has been a platinum seller, and he appears to be the likely candidate to play the Phantom in the film version of the play. He also has been considered to take over the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, another immensely successful 1980s stage musical. But whatever he moves onto next, Crawford seems to realize that in the Phantom he has found the fulfillment of his career, something he can always hang his hat on. “Someday someone else will do it,” he told Kilian, “someone else will go on in your clothes and your positions and do the things that you do. But we did it from the beginning. And I know where it came from, in my soul and in my heart. That’s a lovely feeling.”
Stage musical soundtracks
Billy, CBS, 1974.
The Phantom of the Opera, 1987.
Michael Crawford: Songs from the Stage and Screen, Columbia, 1988.
Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1988.
New York, April 18, 1988.
People, March 14, 1988.
Crawford, Michael 1942- (Dame Edith Shorthouse)
Crawford, Michael 1942- (Dame Edith Shorthouse)
Original name, Michael Patrick Dumble-Smith; born January 19, 1942, in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England; son of Arthur (a military pilot) and Doris (a homemaker; later surname, O'Keefe) Dumble-Smith; married Gabrielle Lewis (a radio music announcer), 1965 (divorced, 1975); children: Emma, Lucy. Education: Attended schools in Bexley and Dulwich, England.
Agent—Steve Levine, International Creative Management, 10250 Constellation Way, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067; (voice work and commercials) Tim Curtis, William Morris Agency, 1 William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actor, singer, and writer. Began career as a boy soprano; sang in the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral; as a child made more than 500 television and radio appearances; also performed in radio plays for BBC-Radio, beginning c. 1957; performer on several tours of world cities. Once operated a foam-cushion business. Sick Children's Trust, president, 1987—; also affiliated with Lighthouse Foundation and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Variety Club Award, most promising newcomer, 1965, and Film Award nomination, most promising newcomer to leading film roles, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1966, both for The Knack … and How to Get It; Variety Club Awards, show business personality of the year and Silver Heart Award, 1974, for Billy; Television Award nominations, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, best actor, 1974, and best light entertainment performance, 1975, and TV Times Award, funniest man on television, 1974, all for Some Mothers Do 'Ave "em; Laurence Olivier Award, best actor in a musical, Society of West End Theatre, 1981, and Variety Club Award, show business personality of the year, both for Barnum; Laurence Olivier Award, best actor in a musical, 1986, Drama Desk Award, Antoinette Perry Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award, all best actor in a musical, and Drama League Award, all 1988, and Los Angeles DramaLogue Award, best actor in a leading role, 1989, all for The Phantom of the Opera; decorated officer, Order of the British Empire, 1987; Musical Achievement Award, Drama League of New York, 1988; Grammy Award nominations, best traditional pop vocal performance and best pop performance by a duo (with Barbra Streisand), National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1993, for A Touch of Music in the Night; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding performance in a variety or musical program, 1998, for Michael Crawford in Concert; Variety Club Showbusiness Award, outstanding stage performance, 2004; Laurence Olivier Award, best supporting actor in a musical, 2005, for The Woman in White; certificate and badge, British Amateur Gymnastics Association.
(West End debut) Buddy, Come Blow Your Horn, Prince of Wales Theatre, 1962.
Second citizen and second serving man, Coriolanus, Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham, England, 1963.
Arnold Champion, Travelling Light, Prince of Wales Theatre, 1965.
Tom, The Anniversary, Duke of York's Theatre, London, 1966.
(Broadway debut) Tom, "White Lies," and Brindsley Miller, "Black Comedy," in Black Comedy (double bill), Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1967.
Brian Runnicles, No Sex Please, We're British, Strand Theatre, London, 1971.
Bill Fisher (title role), Billy (musical), Drury Lane Theatre, London, 1974.
George, Same Time, Next Year, Prince of Wales Theatre, 1976.
Charlie Gordon, Flowers for Algernon (musical), Queen's Theatre, London, 1979.
Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum (title role), Barnum (musical), Palladium Theatre, London, 1981-83, then Manchester Opera House, Manchester, England, 1984-85, later Victoria Palace Theatre, London, 1985.
EFX, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV, 1995.
My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs, City Center Theatre, New York City, 2000.
Daryl Van Horne, The Witches of Eastwick, London production, 2000.
Count von Krolock and (as Dame Edith Shorthouse) Madam von Krolock, Dance of the Vampires (musical), Minskoff Theatre, New York City, 2002-2003.
Count Fosco, The Woman in White (musical), Palace Theatre, London, 2004-2005.
Appearances as child actor include role of Japeth, Noye's Fiddle.
Sammy the little sweep, Let's Make an Opera, c. 1954.
Erik (title role), The Phantom of the Opera, international cities, beginning 1989.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, international cities, 1990-92.
Peter Toms, Soapbox Derby, Children's Film Foundation, 1958.
Jim Fenn, Blow Your Own Trumpet, Children's Film Foundation, 1958.
Kent, A French Mistress, 1960.
Nils Lindwall, Two Living, One Dead (also known as Tvaa levande och en doed), Emerson, 1961.
Staff Sergeant Junior Sailen, The War Lover, Columbia, 1962.
Alan Crabbe, Two Left Feet, British Lion, 1963.
Colin, The Knack … and How to Get It (also known as The Knack), Lopert, 1965.
Hero, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, United Artists, 1966.
Michael Tremayne, The Jokers, Universal, 1966.
Lieutenant Ernest Goodbody, How I Won the War, United Artists, 1967.
Cornelius Hackl, Hello, Dolly!, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1969.
Harry Hayes, The Games, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970.
Harry England, Hello-Goodbye, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970.
White Rabbit, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, American National, 1972.
Woody Wilkins, Condorman, Buena Vista, 1981.
Voice of Cornelius the badger, Once upon a Forest (animated), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1993.
Television Appearances; Series:
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, 1953.
Byron and other characters, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (also known as Not So Much a Programme …), BBC, 1964.
Frank Spencer, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, BBC, 1973-79.
Dave Finn, Chalk and Cheese, 1979.
Dale's All Stars, BBC1, 2000.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Dermot Drage, "The Siege at Killyfaddy," Armchair Theatre, ABC (England), 1960.
Edward, "The Three Barrelled Shotgun," Armchair Theatre, ABC (England), 1966.
"Home Sweet Honeycombe," Theatre 625, BBC, 1968.
Constable, "The Policeman and the Cook," ITV Saturday Night Theatre (also known as ITV Sunday Night Theatre), ITV, 1970.
Himself and Frank Spencer, To Be Perfectly Frank, 1977.
Ferdinand Vanek, "Sorry," Play for Today, BBC1, 1978.
Bob Hope Lampoons Show Business, NBC, 1990.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber Story, Arts and Entertainment, 1992.
The Royal Variety Performance 1992, 1992.
David Foster's Christmas Album, NBC, 1993.
New Year's Eve in Vegas, Fox, 1995.
The 1996 Miss Universe Pageant, CBS, 1996.
The Fantastic World of Michael Crawford, Bravo, 1997.
Michael Crawford in Concert, PBS, 1998, broadcast in England as An Evening with Michael Crawford in Concert, 2001.
My Favorite Christmas Songs, PAX, 1998.
The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (also known as TSO: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve), Fox Family Channel, 1999.
Christmas Eve from the Crystal Cathedral, Fox Family Channel, 1999.
"My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs," Great Performances, PBS, 2001.
I Love Christmas, BBC, 2001.
(Uncredited) Frank Spencer (in archive footage), The 100 Greatest TV Characters, Channel 4, 2001.
"30th Anniversary: A Celebration in Song," Great Performances, PBS, 2003.
Himself, It Started with … Swap Shop, BBC, 2006.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum (title role), Barnum!, PBS, 1986.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
The 42nd Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1988.
Presenter, The 44th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1990.
The 45th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1991.
Presenter, The 47th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1993.
Variety Club Showbusiness Awards 2004, 2004.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Howard Garland, "The Woman from Kimberley," Dixon of Dock Green, BBC, 1959.
Chris Kelly, "A Lead from Mother Kelly," Dixon of Dock Green, BBC, 1960.
Thief, "Easy Money," Police Surgeon, ITV, 1960.
Tony Hudson, "The Villa," Alcoa Presents (also known as Alcoa Presents and One Step Beyond), ABC, 1961.
Alan Murray, "Destiny Sixty-Three," Suspense, BBC, 1963.
BBC 3, BBC, 1966.
A Whole Scene Going, 1966.
Guest, "Alice in Wonderland," Film Night, 1972.
Parkinson, BBC, 1976, 1999, 2001.
The film director, "A Touch of Class," To the Manor Born, PBS, 1979.
The South Bank Show, 1997.
Bar patron, Coronation Street (also known as Corrie), ITV, 1998.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1998.
Richard & Judy, Channel 4, 2004.
Broadway Beat, 2006.
(Uncredited) Frank Spencer (in archive footage), "Bread," Comedy Connections, BBC, 2007.
Television Appearances; Other:
Also appeared in Byron; Destiny; Move after Checkmate; and Still Life.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (cast recording), United Artists, 1966.
Hello, Dolly! (cast recording), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1969.
Billy (original cast recording), CBS, 1974.
Flowers for Algernon (original cast recording), 1980.
Barnum (cast recording), 1981.
The Phantom of the Opera (cast recording), 1986.
Highlights from Phantom of the Opera, 1986.
Michael Crawford: Songs from the Stage and Screen, Columbia, 1988.
(Contributor) The Premiere Collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber, 1988.
Michael Crawford: With Love, 1989.
Michael Crawford Performs Andrew Lloyd Webber, 1991.
(Contributor) Barry Manilow: Showstoppers, 1991.
(Contributor) The Premiere Collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber Encore, 1992.
(Contributor) A Christmas Spectacular of Carols and Songs, 1992.
With Love/The Phantom Unmasked, 1992.
A Touch of Music in the Night, 1993.
(Contributor) Barbra Streisand: Back to Broadway, 1993.
(Contributor) David Foster's Christmas Album, 1993.
Once Upon a Forest (cast recording), 1993.
(Contributor) London Symphony Orchestra Performs the Music of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, 1994.
Favorite Love Songs, 1994.
(Contributor) The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber, 1996.
On Eagle's Wings, 1998.
Michael Crawford: In Concert, 1998.
(Contributor) Ultimate Broadway, 1998.
Michael Crawford: A Christmas Album, 1999.
(Contributor) Sarah Brightman: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection, 1999.
(Contributor) Millennium Chorus, 2000.
(Contributor) Child of the Promise, 2000.
Michael Crawford: The Disney Album, Walt Disney, 2001.
The Best of Michael Crawford, EMI, 2002.
The Woman in White (original London cast recording), 2004.
The Very Best of Michael Crawford, 2005.
Other albums include original soundtrack recordings of Alice in Wonderland.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Premiere Collection Encore, 1992.
Michael Crawford: In Concert, 1998.
Reader for the abridged audio-book version of his autobiography Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String.
Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String (autobiography), Century Books, 1999.
Several 1978 episodes of the series Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em were based on stories by Crawford.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 4, Gale, 1991.
Crawford, Michael, Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String, Century Books, 1999.
Newsmakers 1994, Issue 4, Gale, 1994.
Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1988.
Hollywood Reporter, July 28, 1989, pp. 8-9.
Interview, February, 1988, p. 104.
New York, April 18, 1988, p. 51.
New York Times, February 1, 1988.
People Weekly, March 14, 1988, p. 95.
Playbill, November 30, 2002, p. 16.