PLAYBILL PICKS: The Top Theatre Stories of 2012; "Smash," "Les Miz," Theatre Renovations, Rebecca and More

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23 Dec 2012

Ben Sprecher

MANDERLEY ON FIRE: The annals of New York theatre history have plenty of chapters devoted to outrageous backstage chicanery. But it would be hard to beat the incredible, surreal yarn that brought down the Broadway-hopeful Rebecca. It was a tale of fraud, death and mystery investors. A hard-luck project from the very day it was announced as a Broadway prospect a few years ago, Rebecca's future was never assured. It was on, it was off; the money was there, the money wasn't; the marquee was up, the marquee came down; it was due for this season, it was coming next season. Finally, on Sept. 30, producer Ben Sprecher announced the show would not open this fall as scheduled; the capitalization had failed to materialize. In early August, the press was told that one Paul Abrams — a South African businessman and a major investor who, with three other colleagues, was supposed to cough up $4.5 million of the show's $12 budget — had suddenly died. In London. From malaria. (Ahem.) Soon enough, the bloodhounds of Broadway began looking into this Abrams, but they could find no trace of him, no death notice, nothing. Sprecher admitted he had never met the man, but had been connected to him by a middle party. The press found this middleman. He was Mark C. Hotton, a Long Island businessman who been previously sued for fraud in federal court in New York and Florida, and been accused of running a Ponzi scheme. Now the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI were interested, and charged Hotton with defrauding the producers. Hotton was arrested Oct. 15. Producers of Rebecca said they are planning to file a $100 million lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against Hotton, charging he took tens of thousands of dollars in advances on commissions for bringing in non-existent backers. It may be the only way that Sprecher & Co. will ever make money off the show. (At last word, Sprecher was still seeking a future commercial production for the pop musical based on the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel. And why not? Much of the set is built.)


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