Impresario Drabinsky and Three Others Charged With Half-Billion Dollar Fraud in Canada

News   Impresario Drabinsky and Three Others Charged With Half-Billion Dollar Fraud in Canada Garth Drabinsky, the Canadian theatrical impresario who mounted such lavish Broadway musical productions as Ragtime and Show Boat in the last decade, was one of four former executives of the former Livent producing organization charged Oct. 22 with "fraud affecting the public market," the RCMP announced.

Garth Drabinsky, the Canadian theatrical impresario who mounted such lavish Broadway musical productions as Ragtime and Show Boat in the last decade, was one of four former executives of the former Livent producing organization charged Oct. 22 with "fraud affecting the public market," the RCMP announced.

After a four-year criminal investigation into the financial activities of the entertainment company, the charges pertaining to "accounting irregularities within Livent Inc." between 1989-98 were finally made. Drabinsky, 52, and three of his Livent colleagues, Myron I. Gottlieb, Gordon Eckstein and Robert Topol were all in police custody by the morning of Oct. 22, according to the RCMP, and, according to later wire reports, were granted bail.

Drabinsky and Gottlieb are wanted men in the United States as a result of fraud and insider trading charges. Avoiding arrest, they have not traveled to the U.S. since 1999, forcing Drabinsky to miss openings of productions that he has nurtured or initiated over the past decade: Parade, Seussical and Fosse. Livent imploded in 1998, when the accounting scandal became public, and SFX Entertainment bought its assets, including shows, properties and venues, in 1999.

Police allege the men, all of the Toronto area, "defrauded creditors, and private and public investors of approximately one-half a billion dollars" between 1989-98. Police say the accused did this by "falsifying the corporate and financial statements of Livent Inc. ... misrepresenting the health of the company."

Drabinsky's lawyer, Edward Greenspan, said his client will plead not guilty and will "vigorously defend" himself against the fraud allegations, the Canadian Press reported. Drabinsky "welcomes the chance to clear his reputation," his lawyer said in a statement. Livent chairman and CEO Drabinsky was regarded as a latter-day old-style impresario who promised — and often delivered — the moon to those he enlisted for his projects. Ragtime, which he developed with a hands-on approach, was dressed with every bell and whistle imaginable for its Toronto tryout, tours and Broadway engagement. As grand as his stagings were (the large-cast Show Boat was extravagant, as well), they were also expensive to run every week, which is why Ragtime, which has a large fan base and is guaranteed a life in regional and stock theatres, ran only two years in New York. It didn't help that The Lion King won the Best Musical Tony Award the same season.

For Ragtime, Livent — the only public company that exclusively created legit stage shows — even built a new Broadway theatre, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, which was a merging of two existing theatres.

Observers in the New York theatre community have said over the years that what Drabinsky showed consistently was taste and passion, and a belief in new work. In the past, he spoke passionately about how he saw Show Boat, Ragtime and Parade as part a trilogy about American injustice and hope.

New York industry people linked to Drabinsky's works over the years, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Playbill On-Line that creative lapses made in the development of flops such as Seussical were made because, as one director put it, "the show lacked Garth."

Drabinsky's producing credits over the years included the smash decade-long run of The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto; engagements of Sunset Boulevard in Canada starring Diahann Carroll; the musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman; the non musical Christopher Plummer vehicle, Barrymore; the Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry Harold Prince collaboration, Parade; Prince's short-lived Broadway revival of Candide and more.

— By Kenneth Jones