Obits--Geoffrey Holder


The inimitable Geoffrey Holder, the 6' 6" Renaissance man with the booming bass voice, died at age 84 on October 5, 2014.  Broadway dimmed its lights on October 10th in memory of the producer, actor, dancer, painter, gourmet cook, choreographer, and costume designer who won Tony awards in 1975 for choreography and costume design for The Wiz, his update of The Wizard of Oz.  Mr. Holder's acting roles were often low-brow but memorable, including the tarot-reading villain in Live and Let Die, Punjab in the 1982 movie version of Annie, and, perhaps most famously, the white-suited man extolling the virtues of the "un-cola" in a Seven-Up commercial.  However, most people don't know about his Phantom of the Opera connection.
It was in his producer role that Mr. Holder came into contact with POTO, when he acquired exclusive US rights to Gaston Leroux's novel and announced his plan to direct a musical based upon Leroux's work.  The story of why Mr. Holder's production never came to be can be summed up in three words: Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Although sources diverge regarding exactly how ALW managed to get to Broadway when it was Mr. Holder who held the US rights to Leroux's tale, the gist of the story is this: Mr. Holder set about putting his Phantom team together in 1983 and engaged the Tony-award winning duo of Maury Yeston to compose the music and write the lyrics and Arthur Kopit to write the book. He had several years to get to Broadway before the US copyright to the Leroux novel expired, along with Mr. Holder's exclusive US license.
Unfortunately for Mr. Holder's team, the Leroux novel had already entered the public domain in the United Kingdom. Ken Hill, who had earlier produced a comic version of The Phantom of the Opera in England, revised and revived it in 1984, although he expressed no interest in crossing the Atlantic. The big problem was an article in the November 14, 1984 issue of Variety announcing Andrew Lloyd Webber's plan for his own Broadway Phantom musical, using Gounod's music, once Leroux's copyright expired in the United States. The announcement effectively ended the Holder-Kopit-Yeston venture by destroying the team's ability to raise funds.
Mr. Holder dropped out of the project that he had originated and Mr. Yeston put his largely finished score on hold.  Mr. Kopit converted the book into a television miniseries starring Charles Dance. In 1991, Yeston and Kopit finished their musical and presented it in Houston, under the name Phantom (to avoid confusion with you-know-what).  It has since been seen in 1000 productions, including a three-year tour in Germany. Mr. Yeston calls Phantom "the greatest hit never to be produced on Broadway.''
Mr. Holder left behind a vast legacy of stage and screen work.  Although he couldn't bring to fruition his Phantom of the Opera, he did serve as a catalyst for the tuneful, operetta-like Yeston and Kopit musical.  Had Mr. Holder succeeded in opening his version on Broadway, it would surely have featured incredible choreography and costumes.
The theater world will miss this colossus.