PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 26-Feb. 1: Manderley, Again!; Brigadoon To Dawn; Alan Cumming in Macbeth

By Robert Simonson
01 Feb 2013

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher

I'm not a betting man. And I'm not a rich man. But I would have bet you $100 a month ago that there was no way the Rebecca melodrama could get any weirder.

I would have lost.

This week, it was reported that the producers of the scuttled, scandal-ridden, would-be-fall-2012 Broadway production were suing their press agent. Which is something that, in 25 years of covering the New York theatre, I have never seen. The suit claimed that publicist Marc Thibodeau, a veteran theatre press agent, was the anonymous email tipster who scared off what they characterized as an "Angel Investor" who had promised $2.25 million to shore up the cash-poor show following the loss of a quarter of the investment.

The exit of that investor quickly led to the very-public toppling of the show's financing plan. Soon after, it was revealed that one of the earlier key investors, Paul Abrams — who had supposedly died in London of malaria before he could pony up his share of the dough (thus necessitating that later Angel Investor) — turned out to be entirely fictional. He was the creation of a con artist named Mark Hotton, who was subsequently arrested last fall on charges of defrauding the producers by fabricating the prospect of a commitment of $4.5 million. Lead producer Ben Sprecher had apparently never met or talked to Abrams, or did a background check on Hotton.



The show could have theoretically been saved by that Angel Investor mentioned above. But, according to the producers' new legal complaint, the moneyman was scared off by three emails (sent under the fake names Bethany Walsh and Sarah Finkelstein) issued by Thibodeau, in which the publicist warned that the project was a bad investment.

"Whistleblower" is a term that has been bandied about by both sides since the suit became public. Jeffrey Lichtman, Thibodeau's counsel, said in a statement, "Ben Sprecher is now suing the innocent whistleblower with an impeccable reputation on Broadway who anonymously warned an innocent investor not to sink $2 million into the sinking ship that was Rebecca after he learned that the entire Paul Abrams saga was indeed a fraud." The producers' counsel, Ronald G. Russo, meanwhile, said Thibodeau was in breach of contract and fiduciary duty. He described Thibodeau's e-mail as "a profound act of malice and betrayal."

Lichtman futher told Playbill.com in an email on Jan. 29, "[Marc] didn't want to get involved but he couldn't simply sit there and do nothing as someone was about to be dragged into this mess." Lichtman called the legal action "a revenge lawsuit."

This is the kind of news that leads to not one, but several, articles in the New York Post. And it did. On Jan. 31, columnist Michael Riedel even managed to dig up the identity of the mysterious angel investor. He is Larry Runsdorf, 72, a pharmaceuticals titan from Boca Raton. He told the Post, "I was going to put money in, but then I decided not to. It was just a business thing."

The producers' complaint seeks to hold the defendants' including Hotton, his wife Sherri Hotton, Thibodeau and as many as three other unknown individuals accountable for their "willful and malicious conduct in trying to destroy a promising Broadway show." They claim they will suffer "at least hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profit damages," if the show cannot be saved. (The producers have a high opinion of Rebecca's earning potential.)

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Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming — a talent of curious character who, since his initial triumph in Cabaret, has not been easily fitted into many subsequent stage projects — will return to Broadway in a vehicle of his own making: a one-man adaptation of Macbeth

It will be staged by Tony-winning Once director John Tiffany, and begin previews April 7 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Set in a psychiatric unit, the Scotland-born Cumming (a regular on TV's "The Good Wife") plays a patient who is reliving the story of Macbeth. The show premiered at the National Theatre of Scotland in June 2012 and played a New York run at the Rose Theatre in July 2012. Cumming inhabits all of the characters in Shakespeare's bloody work, which is performed without an intermission.

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Screenwriter, playwright and television titan Aaron Sorkin has departed the creative team of the new Broadway-bound Hugh Jackman vehicle Houdini, producers announced Jan. 30.

Sorkin was to make his debut as a librettist on the musical that has a score by Stephen Schwartz. Deadline.com reported that Sorkin withdrew in order to pen the second season of "The Newsroom" for HBO and an upcoming Steve Jobs biopic.

Sorkin is the second book writer to part ways with the musical. Houdini was first reported with Kurt Andersen attached as librettist. At different times Danny Elfman, David Yazbek and Glenn Slater had all been reported as collaborators on the score.

Spending time thinking about an escape artist like Houdini, I guess you can't help but get ideas.

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Brigadoon, the musical fantasy of two Americans stumbling onto a mythical 18th-century, Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years, will get a major revival by Goodman Theatre in Chicago in summer 2014. With permission from the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe estates, Chicago director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell "will consider some revisions to the book for this production." Not implement revisions, mind you, but "consider" them. Which is certainly a misty, Brigadoon-ish way of putting things.

"As always," said Rockwell, "the challenge will be to preserve what is beloved in this iconic musical, while finding a new emotional depth for the characters and raising the stakes on the journey." A village that lives a day every century, and will vanish forever if one person leaves it? Seems like the stakes are already pretty high.

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It seemed for a second there that the Daryl Roth Theatre was going to get its first new tenant in five years. The Off-Broadway, Argentine-born spectacle Fuerza Bruta, which had been playing the Roth since 2007, had announced a February closing date.

But now producers have announced that it will play the theatre indefinitely. The closing notice spurred ticket demand enough to keep the show on.