Fugitive impresario plans B'way comeback

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  June 19, 2002 at 12:08 PM
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NEW YORK, June 19 (UPI) -- Garth Drabinsky, the Canadian impresario who is a fugitive from justice in the United States, is planning a comeback on Broadway next season with a revival of the 1980 London drama, "The Dresser," by Ronald Harwood.

Drabinsky's plans were leaked by the Toronto Star and confirmed to United Press International by a statement from his Toronto office. The 52-year-old showman and his partner, Myron I. Gottlieb, were indicted in New York in 1999 on 16 counts of criminal fraud and conspiracy, and neither can visit to the United States without risk of arrest.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which indicted Drabinsky and Gottlieb, was asked for comment on Drabinsky's plans but did not reply. The case against the men involved their company, Livent Inc., a publicly held corporation that has been bought since by SFX Entertainment and merged with Clear Channels Communications.

Drabinsky, Gottlieb and several employees of Livent Inc. were charged with taking $40 million in kickbacks from contractors working on Livent's theaters, including the Ford Center on New York's 42nd Street, and hiding $60 million in losses from shareholders, for a total fraud estimated at $100 million and perhaps more.

Drabinsky built the Ford Center as a showcase for Livent musical productions for which he became famous in the 1990s. These included a spectacular revival of "Showboat" and the Tony Award-winning "Ragtime" that brought new luster to Broadway before the Livent theatrical empire began to collapse in 1998.

Drabinsky, who continues to assert his innocence, has already re-entered show business by producing Athol Fugard's play, "The Island," in Toronto last year. For his production of "The Dresser," he is reported to have selected Daniel Sullivan, currently represented on Broadway with "Morning's at Seven," as director and Santo Loquasto ("Fosse," "Elephant Man") as the show's designer. The cast and theater have not yet been chosen, according to The Toronto Star.

Drabinsky's statement did not say whether he would risk accompanying the show to New York or whether he would change his plans to stage the show if U.S. prosecutors declared intention to seize or freeze any of the show's assets or profits Drabinsky might make, as is often done in such cases.

The fugitive's Toronto office stated that Drabinsky was mindful of his legal position and would remain in Canada "until everything is completely resolved to his satisfaction."

Still to be prosecuted are fraud charges against Drabinsky and Gottlieb brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission but held up until the Justice Department case against the two men is resolved. The U.S. government has not yet made an application to Canada for their extradition of the two men because Canadian authorities are continuing their own investigation of Livent Inc.

The Ontario Securities Commission also has charged Drabinsky and other Livent executives with securities violations and Drabinsky agreed earlier this year not to serve as an office of any public company without the commission's consent.

"The Dresser" was made into a British movie starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in 1983. Set in England terrorized by Nazi bombing, it involves an aging and eccentric male star of the theater reduced to playing a second-rate touring company's "King Lear" and his relationship with his devoted dressing room valet.

According to the Drabinsky statement, it will have a month's pre-Broadway run at the Elgin Theater in Toronto next spring.

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