It what is turning out to be the most gripping — yet also tragic — behind-the-scenes scenes to happen in modern musical history, Rebecca - the Musical is in serious trouble again. It was originally being talked up for a West End opening at the Shaftesbury two years ago.
It was even ‘announced’ on a major theatre website, as I wrote here at the time: “The information came from a press release from the show’s original Austrian producers. But no release had been issued here, so I checked with the show’s general manager (as good journalists might be expected to do), and he replied, ‘Discussions are continuing for Rebecca to open in London next year but at this stage there are no confirmed plans.’ Of course, those discussions are no doubt with the Shaftesbury (being one of the few available West End houses capable of housing a major musical) so it may well turn out to be true, but until it is officially announced by the London producers, it seems a bit premature to act on information coming from Europe.”
I added, “But the big danger of gossip or prematurely released news is that once it is out of the box, it is impossible to put back inside it again.” The producers of Rebecca subsequently abandoned their plans to go to the Shaftesbury at all, blaming preliminary investigative work that had been carried out below the Shaftesbury (to accommodate the set) had hit a water source, and soon after announced they would go direct to Broadway instead.
That sounded an extravagant enough proposal, given that Broadway production costs are significantly higher than they are in the West End; but the producers secured the Broadhurst, a prime Broadway theatre, and last year announced their plans to open there on April 22, following previews from March 27. (The below-stage excavation that had derailed the Shaftesbury proposal, meanwhile, was completely aborted for Broadway).
But in January, with the show fully cast and set to be led by Sierra Boggess and Tam Mutu, lead producer Ben Sprecher announced a postponement two weeks before rehearsals were due to begin: > It is with great disappointment that we have made the decision to postpone the Broadway debut of this phenomenal musical until next season. Rebecca is a grand and spectacular musical requiring substantial capitalization, and it’s no secret that in this very negative economic climate, raising money for Broadway has become even more difficult and laborious than it has historically always been. We are very close to meeting our financial goal, but we just ran short of time to complete capitalization with rehearsals slated to begin in two weeks. We feel that Rebecca is too special of a musical to short change in any way. It is our responsibility to the creators of this show, to our cast, our partners, our investors and our vendors that the complete financing is in place before rehearsals begin.”
In March, Sprecher reassured interested parties in another statement posted on the show’s Facebook page:
Rebecca is moving forward. We have identified the final missing piece of investment and the Shuberts (to whom I shall be forever indebted) have graciously allowed us to resume production to open at the Broadhurst in fall of 2012. Thank you all for you patience and most of all to the extraordinary creative team who have stuck by this fantastic production through thick and thin as Rebecca continues to spawn productions and throughout the world.”
It was newly officially announced in May that it would finally come to the Broadhurst, with performances beginning October 30 prior to an official opening on November 18. With Boggess and Mutu now, however, committed to other jobs (they’re both co-starring in Les Miserables) in the West End, it was re-cast with Jill Paice and Ryan Silverman.
And then, suddenly, two weeks before rehearsals were due to begin for this incarnation, it suddenly ran into trouble again: the financing was, once again, not fully in place. This time the reason was, apparently, utterly beyond the producers’ control: a major investor had suddenly died. In a statement, they said:
Since the tragic and sudden death of a major investor in early August, we have been working with the representatives of the estate to complete the committed investment. We had been reassured that the commitment would be honored, and have tried day and night to finalize this matter, but as of yet have been unable to do so, which has left us no choice but to delay the start of rehearsals for Rebecca by two weeks. We are fiercely committed to resolving this issue as soon as possible and getting the production back on track in two weeks.
Even the patient theatre owners the Shubert Organisation, were starting to lose patience by now, though. Philip J Smith, chairman of the Shuberts, told the New York Times:
We want to be cooperative and let them work it out, but it’s a very difficult, very unusual happening — I’ve been around here since 1950 and I’ve never seen a scenario quite like what’s happened to Rebecca. Evidently the lawyers for the estate seem to be cooperating, so there’s some hope, but estate business is very complicated and we just need to see what happens. But let’s face it: there’s a short window of time for this to be resolved.
Last week, Sprecher wrote to his company:
I know the suspense is almost unbearable. Louise [co-producer Louise Forlenza) and I continue to work hard to insure that we will meet next week at a first rehearsal for Rebecca. Forward progress has been made every day over the last week and a half. This uncertainty will be resolved shortly…. Thank you for your extraordinary patience. Don’t believe anyone telling you we are delayed again. The only people who can do that are me, Louise and the Shubert Organization.
Robert E Wankel, president of the Shubert Organisation, told the New York Times last Friday:
We’ve known and worked with Ben for a long time, and look, Broadway is a very small business and we try to support shows and people we believe in. We just think no one could have this much bad luck. Hopefully, the show will get back on track. Then we’ll let consumers decide.
Yesterday, however, the New York Times, digging around to identify the mystery dead investor, whom Sprecher had been declining to name, previously telling the New York Times “You’ll have to go and get that information somewhere else”, started to unravel more layers of mystery that starts to make it sound like an elaborate thriller.
Start with a rich investor unknown to clubby Broadway insiders — a mystery man named Paul Abrams. Go on to the astounding sum he is said to have promised to raise for Rebecca: $4.5 million, easily 10 times more than the wealthiest regulars normally put down for a show. Then: Reports in August of his sudden death in Britain of malaria — yet no obituaries, no death notices. A representative for the Abrams estate surfaces, a person identifying himself only as ‘Wexler’ who refuses to speak by phone and uses an e-mail address created just last month. Finally, late last week, came the revelation that the lead producer of Rebecca, Ben Sprecher, a man trying to make the leap from Off Broadway to the Broadway big leagues, had never met Mr. Abrams or spoken to him by phone. That disclosure, confirmed by Mr. Sprecher, sent some of his other investors reeling.”
I’ll say! But let the Shubert’s now increasingly weary-sounding Robert E Wankel say it instead:
I’ve never heard of a situation where you didn’t at least meet the person raising 30 percent of your show budget. Broadway does business in its own strange way, I’ll grant you. But this is the strangest bit of show business to come along in a long time.”
This is sounding so bizarre that it’s starting to make the story of The Producers seem utterly ordinary and commonplace. Of course, in that case the fictitious producers were trying to raise a fast buck by scamming old lady investors. There’s no suggestion that Sprecher is committing an intentional fraud here. But he’s either possibly been strung along by an investor whose money never existed or has now made a strategic exit by apparently dying; alternatively…well, I don’t have the financial knowledge to begin to speculate.