The company of the shuttered national tour of Ragtime may have something to be thankful for by the end of this Thanksgiving week.
Pace Theatrical Group Inc. confirmed to Playbill On-Line Nov. 24 what had been known by industry insiders since late last week: Pace is planning to take control of the prematurely closed Livent national tour of Ragtime and deliver it in time for announced bookings in Seattle (Dec. 2-Jan. 3) and Boston (Jan. 20-March 28, 1999).
"Pace is in the process of discussions with Livent to facilitate the show continuing to Seattle," said Georgiana Young, Pace vice president of business development and corporate communications. "It's a complex process made more complex by the fact that it's subject to the rulings of a bankruptcy court."
Livent, the Canada-based theatrical production company, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers in the U.S. Nov. 18 and is operating under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada. On Nov. 17, the 55-member cast was informed that the national tour of Ragtime would shut down months early after its final Minneapolis performance, Nov. 21. The Tony Award winning musical was to have played at least through March 28, 1999 and to (unannounced) markets beyond.
By Nov. 20, the dejected cast at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis had heard that Pace, which produces and presents touring shows in 38 markets around the country, including Seattle and Boston, might be the troupe's White Knight. Young said Pace intends to get the tour to Seattle's Paramount Theatre for its Dec. 2 first performance and then to Boston's Colonial Theatre for the Jan. 20 first performance.
"Let's get the show to Seattle, then let's get the show to Boston and then let's see where we go from there," said Young.
Millions of dollars are at stake, and so are hundreds of jobs for actors, musicians, technical crew people and others. A conservative Young said box office sales in both Boston and Seattle have been "brisk" and "strong," exceeding $1 million in each market. Tickets are still on sale in both cities, suggesting more than confidence from Pace.
Alan Eisenberg, president of Actors' Equity Association, told Playbill On Line Nov. 24 he was "shocked" when he heard about the Ragtime shut down and sent an Equity representative to Minneapolis to be with the cast and crew last week. He confirmed that Equity is working with Pace to preserve jobs. "It was a huge concern to us," Eisenberg said. "It's all about jobs and opportunities. We believe it's going to happen."
Eisenberg said the Pace contract would simply be a "lift" of the details of the Livent contract for the cast and company. Most of the original cast is expected to return, although insiders said a couple of performers may exercise the option to leave the company.
On Nov. 23, a representative of actor Michael Rupert's agency, Writers and Artists, confirmed Rupert would continue playing Tateh, the immigrant, in the Seattle and Boston stops for the musical about America circa 1905.
Details of the Pace takeover of Ragtime (but not of other Livent properties or the Chicago or New York Ragtime companies) are expected to be announced later this week.
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.
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 and Boston's Colonial.
Although no official Livent word came until late Nov. 18, the cancellation was confirmed in the afternoon by Gilbert Parker, the William Morris agent representing Ragtime director Frank Galati. He told Playbill On-Line 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.
But 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 on Nov. 18 and 19, despite the shutdown news. 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."
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. But there is no indication from Pace that the production would be cut down.
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 "inappropriate 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.)
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 in Minneapolis began Oct. 7.
As of Nov. 24, 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. 24, tickets were still on sale for the Baltimore Show Boat engagement. As of Nov. 23, the tour was still being planned at venues around the country although 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.