What does the suspension of maverick producer Garth Drabinsky mean for Livent Inc., the troubled theatrical company he once ran, and for Broadway, where Livent has become a major player in the past five years?
It could make a murky financial situation even murkier for a company that reported a $30.9 million loss in 1997. It also could deprive Broadway of an ambitious Canadian producer who pushed his projects with a single-minded enthusiasm."Whatever else Drabinsky may have done, he is an impresario," said Dennis McAlpine, an entertainment analyst for Josephthal & Co. "He brought a lot of theater to New York including such shows as `Barrymore,' `Show Boat' and `Rag-time.' Without his drive, I'm not sure that would have happened."
The ebullient Drabinsky, 48, was suspended as vice chairman last week by Livent, pending an investigation of alleged irregularities in its financial records, which the company says involved "millions of dollars." Also suspended was Myron Gottlieb, who co-founded the company with Drabinsky in 1989.
In a statement, Drabinsky and Gottlieb said they were surprised and dismayed by the Livent announcement, adding that the company "provided few details and no practical opportunity for us to address or respond to them."
Livent was reorganized in April and Drabinsky demoted from president to chief creative officer. He was replaced as chairman and chief executive by entertainment banker Roy Furman. Michael Ovitz, a former president of the Walt Disney Co., became a major stockholder with an investment of $20 million.
Drabinsky added that "new management was provided ample opportunity, prior to closure of the transaction, to raise any accounting concerns."
Livent reiterated that despite the troubles, it remains a viable company that is "operationally and creatively very strong."
Last week, its lawyers reportedly reassured participants in several ongoing and upcoming Livent projects that they would proceed on schedule.
The company currently is represented on Broadway with "Ragtime" and on the road with several touring productions, including "Show Boat" and another company of "Ragtime."
"Show Boat" was due to play in Salt Lake City Aug. 4-23 but was canceled when two touring companies were combined into one. Officials said the touring companies were joined to cut costs.
Livent has been counting on "Ragtime" to provide a healthy financial base. Results so far have been spotty.