Drabinsky doc a tale of majestic malfeasance 0
One-time Broadway impresario Drabinsky was convicted of fraud and forgery by a Canadian court in March, more than a decade after the collapse of high-profile theater producer Livent Inc. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
The Beaver Creek minimum security institution in Gravenhurst - where impresario Garth Drabinsky is serving time - is apparently of a piece with its Muskoka surroundings.
"You drive up the road to where the prison is, and it's majestic," says Barry Avrich, whose doc Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life Of Garth Drabinsky is debuting at TIFF. "The trees are 100 feet tall. The interesting thing is there are no fences or bars, but there are markers, and if you step outside them, you have an issue."
It's not that Drabinsky is averse to crossing lines. But, (a) the showman, whose financial malfeasance sees him serving five years following a career juggling the books of giant theatrical productions like Phantom Of The Opera and Show Boat, would be tossed right back into meximum security if he tried, and (b) apart from, maybe, ex-newspaper magnate Conrad Black, he is the most recognizable convicted corporate felon in Canada.
Avrich, who worked for Drabinsky for nine years as an advertiser for the ill-fated Livent theatre empire, is also on friendly terms with Black, and considers the differences between the two telling.
I suggest most people aren't exactly sure what Black was in prison for, the U.S. security violation laws being difficult to explain. Drabinsky, on the other hand, had two sets of books - one he showed to the press and investors, and the real one, drenched in red ink.
"Everyone understands 'cooking the books,'" Avrich says. "Plus there are vocal victims walking around saying (about Garth), 'He screwed me!' Conrad, there are maybe some disgruntled shareholders, but it's a rich man's game."
He worked for Drabinsky, and still maintains a relationship with him (Drabinsky even took a rare acting turn, playing an arrogant casting agent in Avrich's short-film debut The Method Of Madness), so Avrich is keenly aware people will assume he's soft-pedaling his ex-boss. But Show Stopper is an exhaustive compendium of Drabinsky's history of blowing through other people's money, albeit in the service of often-critically-acclaimed works. He left bad blood as a movie producer, was boss of Cineplex Odeon, where he was a hero for restoring old theatres, but fired for nearly bankrupting the company.
Greed was clearly not the issue. A giant ego was.
Hence Drabinsky's next project, the theatre mega-company Livent, which sailed on a sea of giant musicals - but mostly on the receipts of two bona fide Andrew Lloyd Webber hits - Phantom and Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Other hugely-ambitious projects, like Show Boat, Ragtime and Kiss Of The Spider-Woman had people in the industry scratching their heads over the business plan.
"From my first day, New York people especially were so suspicious and said, 'Livent is a house of cards.' And I heard this for nine years. But if Livent was a house of cards, which ultimately it was, it's a pretty good house of cards to withstand all that blowing for nine years."
But perhaps the most startling thing about Show Stoppers is the people who remain in his corner - including Christopher Plummer (from Drabinsky's Barrymore) and Chita Rivera (Kiss Of The Spider-Woman). The suggestion clearly is that once Drabinsky is out of jail, there might be no shortage of people willing to front him money again.
"He still has believable ideas," Avrich says. "And I've always said there's a dentist on every corner, somebody so bored of being in their own business they just love the idea of being at an opening party.
"I was at a Broadway show a month ago, and someone who'd invested $150,000 said, 'Barry, do you think I'll get my money back?' And I said, 'No. But you got your name above the title. You're a producer. Enjoy the party."