The Weirdness of Rebecca

Rebecca logoRebecca will not open on Broadway this fall, its producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza announced yesterday. The bottom line reason: a lack of financing. But as I tweeted yesterday:  Little is clear about the Rebecca saga, except that it’ll inspire a backstage musical somewhere or at least a plot-line for Smash.

October 7th update in The New York Times: “The lawyer for the lead producer of the Broadway musical “Rebecca,” which collapsed after the reported death from malaria of a mysterious investor, said on Sunday that he had confirmed that the investor and three others brought in by a middleman with a history of civil fraud complaints never existed.”

The musical, based on the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier but best-known for the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine , was originally in German, with book and lyrics by Michael Kunze, music by Sylvester Levay. It opened in Vienna in 2006. It then played all over Europe.

Producers planned an English-language version, adapted by Christopher Hampton (Sunset Boulevard) for the 2011-12 Broadway season starring Sierra Boggess, and directed by Michael Blakemore (Kiss Me, Kate; City of Angels; Noises Off). But in January the producers announced that the show would be bumped to the next season because they couldn’t raise enough money. The show was rescheduled to open on November 18th.

Then in August, Sprecher announced that the opening would have to be delayed, because, he said, a major investor had died.  Sprecher said the investor, whom he refused to name (but later said had died in London on August 5), had committed to supply about a third of the $12 million that producers said they needed to mount the show on Broadway. In reporting this story, the New York Times said sources had been told the investor’ name was Paul Abrams, but that the newspaper could find no obituary notice in August anywhere for a Paul Abrams.

The statement released by the producers on September 30th postponing the show indefinitely is worth quoting at some length: The producers, it said…

“managed to virtually fill in the missing gap during the last three weeks, primarily from a new investor, their own funds and an additional commitment from an investor who had already made a substantial investment.

“On Friday, September 28th, at approximately 1pm, Sprecher and Forlenza were informed that an extremely malicious e-mail, filled with lies and innuendo, had been sent directly to the new investor that morning from an anonymous third party. The e-mail was designed to scare this investor away and it succeeded. The investor withdrew.

“Says Sprecher, ‘Why anyone would be so hateful and cruel and would go to such a huge amount of effort to uncover confidential information, including the details of a private transaction and the identities of an individual and his attorneys, and send such an e-mail with the goal being to shut down a production that involves the jobs of over a hundred people and their families, is something I am having a terrible time grasping. This is devastating for everyone involved in this wonderful and unique production. All that we have ever wanted to do is put on this amazing show.” Ticket sales of over $1 million have been a good indication that New York wanted the show. Already an international sensation, Rebecca continues to enjoy success around the world. Sprecher went on to say, “We will not stop our efforts to mount this show and alternatives are already unfolding. We will continue doing everything we can to protect this asset and our investors. We have provided a copy of this e-mail to the proper authorities and a criminal investigation is already under way. ”

Update:  The NY Times quotes a source citing a “continuing criminal investigation into the collapse of “Rebecca” by the United States attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” in an article  that focuses on the possible involvement of an alleged con man in the Rebecca saga (mystery, scandal?)

“A Long Island man with a history of civil fraud complaints against him, and who filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011 with $15 million in debts, steered the lead producer of the now-scuttled Broadway musical “Rebecca” to a mysterious investor whose recent death from malaria set the stage for the collapse of the musical, according to a person who learned about the middleman from the producer, Ben Sprecher.

“The man, Mark C. Hotton of West Islip, N.Y., has been sued for fraud in federal court in New York and Florida in recent years…”

Ryan Silverman from the canceled Rebecca
Ryan Silverman, cast as Maxim de Winter, one of the leads in Rebecca, in a brief interview at Broadway in Bryant Park this summer. The musical, slated for Broadway, has now been postponed indefinitely.

Here is a video I made when cast members Ryan Silverman and Jill Paice from Rebecca appeared at Broadway in Bryant Park on August 10th. It includes brief interviews and two songs from the musical, “Free Now” and “Help Me Through The Night”

So, a question: Surely, this kind of weirdness has happened on Broadway before. Can anybody cite examples?

Another update:

Statement from Rebecca cast member Karen Mason:

“In the past several days, there has been a lot of speculation and innuendo about the production of REBECCA.

“And more specifically, about its producer, Ben Sprecher . Those of us who have actually been part of this whole mysterious journey tell a different story about him. 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. He treated us respectfully — not as employees, but as partners in an artistic endeavor.

“This past Monday, we had our first Company Meeting. 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!) “Invincible”.

“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.

“I am heartsick about the aggressive press about this situation. When did we become so mean-spirited as a community? Have we always been so willing to assume the worst about someone? Even when there are no real facts available? This behavior makes me very sad.”

1. Have we always been willing to assume the worst about someone? Yes!

2. There are actually facts available, and more are being unearthed.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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