Monday, October 1, 2012

"Rebecca" is Dead (Again)

The the Manderly estate in which the show is set, Rebecca's Broadway dreams have gone up in smoke.

I’m generally not a superstitious person, but even I have to wonder if the American production of Rebecca is cursed.  On the eve of its long-delayed first rehearsal, the gothic musical thriller had to cancel its Broadway bow for a second time due to lack of financing.  This comes after the production was pushed back from the spring to the fall for the exact same reason, a move which forced the recasting of its two lead roles.

For those who haven’t been following Rebecca’s various ups and downs (mostly downs), here’s a quick recap.  The show, based on the novel of the same name, is a hit in Europe that already saw plans for a London production scrapped in favor of Broadway.  Lead producer Ben Sprecher has had a hell of a time securing the show’s $12 million capitalization, which is expensive but by no means unheard of for a big Broadway musical.  He claimed to have the money situation all shored up when a mysterious benefactor named Paul Abrams died in early August, taking his $4.5 million investment with him to the grave.  Sprecher scrambled to find more funds, pouring his own money into the project and finding a new, unnamed $2 million investor.  But now that investor has pulled out after being sent a “malicious e-mail” by a third party, prompting this latest delay.

Sprecher claims he still wants to make Rebecca happen, but at this point only a fool would believe him.  Remember, this isn’t a show that was rumored for the Great White Way; Sprecher has on two occasions announced firm opening dates, secured a theatre, and begun work on the show’s costumes and sets.  Canceling a show so far along in its development is almost never done, which serves as an indication of how bad things really are.  But whatever you think is happening behind the scenes, the latest information indicates that the truth could be much, much worse.

For instance, The New York Times published a very interesting article last week that speculated Paul Abrams and his $4.5 million never even existed.  Sprecher himself has admitted that he never actually met Abrams, and you have to wonder about a producer who would depend on a complete stranger for a full third of his production budget.  Even worse, the Times asserts that the e-mail address used by Abrams’ assistant to communicate with Sprecher is only a month old, AND points out that there is no independently verifiable information about Abrams’ death (you’d think such a wealthy man would merit at least a sentence or two in the obituary section of the local paper).

At best, Sprecher is an incompetent producer who isn’t performing his due diligence and therefore shouldn’t be in charge of large sums of money; at worst, he has willfully deceived his other investors and the general public.  The police certainly find all of this suspicious, and have begun to question Sprecher about the whole affair (to his credit, Sprecher seems to be cooperating).  And then there is this most recent investor, who was scared off by the content of a nasty e-mail – an e-mail he or she should never have received, because the investment was supposed to remain anonymous.  Assuming this person exists, the sudden departure makes you wonder how reliable Sprecher’s other investors are, and also how safe your personal information is with this untested Broadway producer.  I certainly wouldn’t trust my money to him, and I doubt many others would, either.

Even if the existence of Paul Abrams is proven and Sprecher cleared of all wrong doing, no one is going to support this show.  As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Who’s to say that Rebecca won’t be canceled late in the game a third time?  Making money on a Broadway show is a tricky proposition to begin with; having an inexperienced and clearly unqualified person calling the shots isn’t going to increase the show’s financial chances.

The only way I see Rebecca happening now is if Sprecher leaves the project, and is replaced by someone a little more trustworthy.  That strategy worked on Spider-Man, Broadway’s last big budget disaster, which has miraculously overcome all of its early troubles to become one of Broadway’s top box office draws.  And if Spider-Man is your best case scenario, you have to wonder if it’s even worth it, considering that show is one of the most reviled and mocked pieces of entertainment to hit the Rialto in years. 

I would love for Rebecca’s fortunes to change, because as I’ve said before I think it is an excellent idea for a musical and could be a fantastic night at the theatre.  But at this point, I don’t think anyone would touch the show.  You’d basically be starting from scratch (as the Times points out, most of the investors are asking for their money back), and the stigma on the show is probably too much to overcome.  I think Rebecca is truly dead, and her ghost will haunt aspiring Broadway producers for years to come.

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