Cast of Rebecca Mourns Show's Collapse; Middleman Between Producer and Lost Investor Named

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03 Oct 2012

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher

The collapse of the $12 million musical Rebecca in the days before rehearsals were to begin on Oct. 1 was mourned by the cast and staff at a meeting called by the producers. The suddenly unemployed troupe gathered on what would have been their meet-and-greet day.

The meeting was not mandatory, of course, but lead producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza extended the invitation.

"Ben assembled for Rebecca an incredibly prestigious and brilliant creative staff, and one of the most generous, tenacious casts I have had the pleasure to know," actress Karen Mason wrote in a public letter released to media. "He treated us respectfully —not as employees, but as partners in an artistic endeavor. It was a sad, emotional couple of hours. In my heart, all I really wanted to do was start working on my song — yes, I am already possessive of Mrs. Danvers!" Her song, she wrote, was called — ironically — "Invincible."

She continued, "What I know is that I left that meeting feeling that Ben Sprecher was an ethical man, and someone I would be honored to work with. I have been in this business a very long time, and my instincts are very good about people. I am telling you that Ben Sprecher is a fine human being, and one of those rare theatrical producers who truly cares about the theatre."

The summer loss of $4.5 million from an investor that Sprecher admitted he never met (but who signed investment papers) sent the producer into a money-raising whirlwind in the past month. (The mysterious investor, revealed in published reports as a South African businessman named Paul Abrams, was said to have died of malaria in London, though there is no evidence of such a person — just a promise of money from him and his partners). At the last minute, Sprecher said he had secured funds to fill the gap in the $12 million budget and was prepared to begin rehearsals on Oct. 1.

Karen Mason

Sprecher then said he was blindsided on Sept. 28 by a malicious anonymous tipster who scared the new investors off, scuttling the production's hope of a fall launch.

On Oct. 2, the New York Times reported that the man who introduced Sprecher to Paul Abrams was Mark C. Hotton, a Long Island businessman who has been sued for fraud in federal court in New York and Florida. The paper reported that Hotton filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011. His debt was $15 million.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are reportedly looking into the circumstances of the loss of financing of Rebecca, including the identity of Abrams. A call to Sprecher's spokesman, lawyer Ronald G. Russo, was not immediately returned on Oct. 3.

News reporting about the loss of one-third of the show's budget left some to think that Abrams was a fictional character. Sprecher told the New York Times on Oct. 2, "I never made up or fabricated any investor, and I never made up Paul Abrams."

Donna English

Of the Oct. 1 company meeting, cast member Donna English wrote on a Facebook posting, "Yesterday the entire cast as well as the creative team and producers came together on what would have been our long awaited first day of rehearsal. Although the meeting may have begun with skepticism from some, no one was there with pitchfork in hand, ready to string someone up. This is an amazing group of people who have bonded together over these past months, and the love and sadness in the room was palpable.

"Four of our producers were there, as well as our esteemed director, choreographer and writers, all of whom were very supportive of our lead producer, Ben Sprecher. Ben, who was distraught, was very forthcoming in telling us of the events over these past few weeks, ending with the most recent and disturbing case of wire fraud that is now under criminal investigation. He offered us a chance to ask questions, and he answered those questions."

English wrote that Sprecher "and [director Michael] Blakemore shared their continued belief in the show and in us as a company, and Ben vowed he would not give up. The meeting ended with a general feeling of immense warmth and support (including a standing ovation for Ben as he left to go meet with the Shuberts), and the hope that we would all meet again under happier circumstances."

Cast member Roger DeWitt told Playbill.com that the Oct. 1 meeting was "an experience in solidarity," admitting, "We're still all grieving."

The three cast members all expressed a wish that the public reserve judgment about the circumstances about Rebecca's collapse until all of the facts are known.

"Hold up your fellow actors," English wrote." Hold up producers who take this crazy gamble because they believe in a theatrical project so much. Give the benefit of the doubt instead of joining in the negative drumbeat of innuendo and rumors."

DeWitt said, "People tend to treat shows like entities, they become depersonalized and it's fashionable or fun to throw pot shots at it."

On Oct. 3, the cast of Rebecca was meeting with Actors' Equity Association to learn what the actors' rights are. At least, the bond that Equity requires of producers guarantees them two weeks of pay.

On Oct. 2, Equity told Playbill.com, "Actors' Equity Association is working diligently with the producer of Rebecca to ensure the cast is paid properly."

Read more about the circumstances of the demise of Rebecca here.