National Tour of Ragtime to Shut Down Suddenly Nov. 21 in MN; Livent Files Chap 11

News   National Tour of Ragtime to Shut Down Suddenly Nov. 21 in MN; Livent Files Chap 11
 
The cast of the national tour ofRagtime in Minneapolis was told Nov. 17 that the tour will abruptly shut down after its Nov. 21 final performance at the Orpheum Theatre.

The cast of the national tour ofRagtime in Minneapolis was told Nov. 17 that the tour will abruptly shut down after its Nov. 21 final performance at the Orpheum Theatre.

Financially-beleaguered producer Livent informed the 55-member cast and additional crew at the half-hour call Nov. 17, shocking a troupe that expected to go on to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre (Dec. 2-Jan. 9) and Boston’s Colonial Theatre (Jan. 20-March 28).

A Livent spokesperson at the Toronto headquarters had no comment but expected to announce something by the evening of Nov. 18.

However, Gilbert Parker, the William Morris agent representing Ragtime director Frank Galati, confirmed to Playbill On-Line Nov. 18 that his client had been informed of the shut down. Likewise, Linda Kalodner, Writers and Artists agent for actor Michael Rupert (who has played Tateh in the tour since its Washington, D.C. opening last spring) also confirmed that his client was out of work as of Nov. 21.

Regan Byrne, marketing director of the “Broadway in Boston” series at the Colonial told Playbill On-Line the show was still "a go" there and tickets were still being sold Nov. 18 and 19. She said she had heard about the Minneapolis shut down notice, but no written or verbal confirmation about a change in Boston had come from Livent. "As far as we know, it's still a go," she said, adding that sales have been "brisk." Representatives with Pace Theatricals, the Paramount bookers in Seattle, were not available to speak on the subject. Livent said Nov. 18 that it was attempting to reschedule the upcoming Seattle and Boston engagements of the tour and that new dates for those cities may be announced in the near future.

A Minneapolis cast member who sent news about the shut-down notice to friends via e-mail said there was a rumor that Livent might scale back the size of the show to make it more economically viable, perhaps trimming cast or technical aspects of the big-set show for a return of the tour in 1999.

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In related Livent news, days of speculation about Livent filing for bankruptcy protection ended Nov. 18 when Livent Inc. and its U.S. subsidiaries filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code Nov. 18.

The filing was made in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District on New York. The company said in a late-day Nov. 18 statement that it is considering the same kind of protective action in Canada.

The filing allows Livent, producer of such musicals as Show Boat, Ragtime and Fosse, the chance to keep creditors at bay while pursuing financial restructuring in the wake of recently discovered "accounting irregularities" and "inapproriate business practices" by suspended founder and vice chairman Garth Drabinsky and suspended executive vice president Myron Gottlieb.

Also on Nov. 18, Livent board members voted to terminate the already-suspended pair effective immediately. The board also authorized a filing in Ontario Court of a $225 million (CDN) civil damage action against Drabinsky, Gottlieb and a company owned by Gottlieb, alleging "fraud, conversion and unjust enrichment," according to a Livent statement. (See related Playbill On-Line story.)

It was unclear what immediate impact the Chapter 11 filing would have on new stagings of Fosse (opening on Broadway in January), the tour of Show Boat, the co-production of Parade (with Lincoln Center Theater) or the Chicago sit-down staging of Ragtime.

As late as Nov. 13, Livent had reconfirmed the casting for the Boston booking: Alton Fitzgerald White as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Rupert as Tateh, Rebecca Eichenberger as Mother, Darlesia Cearcy as Sarah and Cris Groenendaal as Father.

The Orpheum run began Oct. 7.

As of Nov. 19, a tour of Show Boat was still on the road from Livent and headed to Providence Nov. 25-Dec. 6, New Orleans Dec. 18-Jan. 10 and Baltimore Jan. 8-24. The Rochester, NY booking Feb. 19-March 13 was cancelled last week, but a Livent spokesperson said a fall 1999 engagement is hoped for there. The spokesperson added that the tour will go on hiatus after Baltimore and "downsize" the production before starting up again for planned bookings later in 1999.

As of Nov. 19, the tour was still being blocked out and no official dates would be released by Livent. A 24-day run in Columbus, OH, scheduled for Aug. 20-Sept. 12 has been cut to 14 days, Aug. 9-22, according to a booking source.

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According to various sources, Livent's creditors include the Bank of Montreal, Fidelity Investments Canada Ltd., and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Other sources have Livent's heads Roy Furman and Michael Ovitz looking for a buyer for the company. A sale seems unlikely, however, in light of Livent's reputation on Wall Street. On Nov. 17, according to Variety, the credit agency Standard and Poor downgraded the rating of the company from triple C. The agency said the move "reflects concerns that Livent's capacity to service its outstanding obligations has been further eroded." It also advised that "A bankruptcy filing may become an appropriate option for the company."

Livent was to have released its restated earnings for the past few years by Nov. 13 but has delayed the release until the end of November. The company stated it needed extra time to process all the necessary information. Livent's troubles began in August, when it was revealed that accounting irregularities has occurred during the reign of now-ousted Livent founder Garth Drabinsky. Since then, the accounting firm of KPMG/Peat Marwick began pouring over Livent's books.

Livent Chairman Roy Furman had stated that a restating of the company's financial results for 1996, 1997, and the first quarter of 1998 was "virtually certain."

Meanwhile, the New York Post reported that Drabinsky is seeking a $6 million severance package from Livent. Livent spokesperson Jim Badenhausen would not comment on that matter.

On Oct. 22, an Ontario court struck down one of Drabinsky's legal challenges to KPMG's investigation of the theatre production company's books. On Sept. 16, Drabinsky filed a law suit attacking KPMG, then in the midst of inspecting Livent's books for financial irregularities practiced under Drabinsky's tenure. The impresario also requested that an injunction be placed on KPMG's findings. Livent received KPMG's final report on Oct. 22 after the court approved its delivery.

"This report is what the company has been seeking all along," said Livent officials in a statement, "an objective account of the facts." Drabinsky's suit against KPMG is still pending.

Drabinsky claimed KPMG holds a conflict of interest in the matter, because the firm has been the impresario's personal accountant for 20 years and was also Livent's new management team enlisted to inspect the company's books earlier this year.

Drabinsky, along with Livent co-founder Myron Gottlieb, was suspended on Aug. 10 by the company he helped create. Livent, which was taken over last spring by a new management group headed by Roy Furman and Mike Ovitz, cited accounting regularities totaling in the millions. Furman subsequently named Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes to take Drabinsky's place.

Livent recently withdraw its claim on 42nd Street's Times Square Theatre. On Aug. 5, Livent signed an option of the playhouse -- the last theatre on the block between Seventh and Eighth avenues to be claimed. The company has since rethought the move. "We determined that our proposal did not deliver sufficient returns for the company," said Furman at the time.

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