Once saved from the wrecking ball, the former movie palace known as the Paramount in Seattle will host the first preview Dec. 2 of another property that has so far avoided the scrap heap: The national touring company of Ragtime.
The official opening performance of the show, taken over from insolvent Livent by Pace Theatrical Group, is the evening of Dec. 3, following a matinee and the Wednesday preview.
Although apparently lucrative, the national tour of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical was nevertheless shut down unexpectedly Nov. 21 in Minneapolis as producer Livent filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers. The holidays looked bleak for the 55-member cast and dozens of crew, tech and related personnel, who were shocked by the Nov. 17 closing posting.
But Pace Theatrical Group, the New York producer which also books shows in 35 markets around the country, stepped in to propose a multimillion dollar takeover the national tour, hoping to save Pace market bookings in Seattle (Dec. 2-Jan. 3), Boston (Jan. 20-March 28, 1999 at the Colonial Theatre) and perhaps, eventually, beyond.
Following a week's hiatus in which three cast members chose not to return, Seattle is a go for the entire run. Sales exceed $1.75 million there, according to a Pace source. Sales in Boston also exceed $1 million. Whacking through a thicket of legal paperwork involved in extracting an existing property from a bankrupt organization, Pace won the Seattle deal, but Boston, where tickets are still on sale, is not yet confirmed. Georgiana Young of Pace told Playbill On-Line she expected news by Dec. 7, and could not speculate about other announced bookings, such as the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco in spring.
The resurrection of the tour coincides with dire news for staffers at Livent's Toronto headquarters: About 100 people were laid off Nov. 30 with a severance of one week's pay plus vacation pay in an effort to further streamline the company and allow for easier reorganization or takeover.
Young said Pace intends to get the tour to Boston's Colonial Theatre for the Jan. 20, 1999 first performance, pending negotiations.
"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.
Young, Pace vice president of business development and corporate communications, earlier told Playbill On-Line, "It's a complex process made more complex by the fact that it's subject to the rulings of a bankruptcy court."
Official opening for Seattle is Dec. 3. The company retained leads Alton Fitzgerald White as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Michael Rupert as Tateh, Rebecca Eichenberger as Mother, Darlesia Cearcy as Sarah and Cris Groenendaal as Father.
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."
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.
Eisenberg was not available Dec. 2 to comment about the tour losing three actors, and whether they would be replaced.
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 of New York. The company said in a late-day Nov. 18 statement 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.)