Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Judgment in Toronto, Broadway style

In a short while, we will find out the fate of two former giants of the Canadian entertainment business and it's ... another sign I'm way too old for my thirty-six years: I remember when Live Entertainment, or Livent, was the toast of Toronto and Broadway. Beginning as a division of Cineplex ™, the guys who ran that division, Garth Drabinsky and partner Myron Gottlieb, bought out the division and restored the abandoned Pantages Theatre (later renamed the Canon ™) for the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. I had a chance to see the show in Toronto (on a student discount while I was going to McMaster) and later my late mom and I went to the revival of Showboat (which was as close to perfection as it could get -- and we got a laugh out when we discovered one of the stars also had a recurring character on Married With Children! (Among other shows the company produced were Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime and Fosse).

What few knew at the time was that Livent was a troubled company almost from the start. In going over the top for its audiences, it went over the top in its finances, even after it went public. When it started losing money, mega-agent Michael Ovitz (who had just been unceremoniously fired from Walt Disney ™ with a record severance package in the nine figures -- that's NINE) was brought in to clean up the mess; and the next thing people knew Drabinsky and Gottlieb were escorted out of the company they founded.

Long story short: The Mounties and the SEC looked further into the company and have alleged the twosome falsified the true nature of the company. Among the allegations: They personally took $4.6 million in corporate funds for their personal use, and that overall the company's value was overstated by about half a billion dollars. The company was eventually sold for $98 million (peanuts) to the behemoth now known as Live Nation ™, and Drabinsky and Gottlieb are wanted in the States for failing to answer to a warrant. Here in Canada they are on trial for each of nineteen counts of fraud over $5000.

What will be the outcome? Given the Toronto Crown's recent track record, it really could go either way. The two guys made Toronto the entertainment hotspot it is today -- but did they break the rules? My sense, even if they are acquitted, there are some ethical questions that may never be answered in full. If they ever produce another show again, people may ask twice about purchasing a ticket for an event sponsored by them. Heck -- I'd rather go to Stratford anyway, what with free parking courtesy the local chamber of commerce, and the drive there is always relaxing.

Update later.

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