Garth Drabinsky became noted as a flamboyant, free-spending producer and those excesses ultimately led to his being dismissed from two major corporations which he founded. The Canadian-born son of an...
Stepped down as CEO and chair of Livent when Michael Ovitz joined the company (April)
Opened "Ragtime" on Broadway in newly built Ford Center for the Performing Arts; show received four Tony Awards
From ages five to 12, underwent numerous operations on his legs
Worked as an entertainment lawyer
Feature debut as executive producer with "The Silent Partner"; film featured Christopher Plummer and was scripted by Curtis Hanson
Co-founded Cineplex Odeon Corporation, a movie-theater chain; company originally had one 18-screen complex in Toronto
Livent (US) Inc. produced Broadway revival of "Candide" directed by Prince; earned Tony Award nomination as Best Revival of a Musical; show closed after a brief run
With Myron Gottlieb. co-founded Live Entertainment Corporation of Canada; also chairman; only asset is the Pantages Theatre in Toronto and the Canadian rights to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "The Phantom of the Opera"
Filed lawsuit in Canada to try to block investigation into Livenet's financial dealings
Produced a critically-acclaimed revival of "Show Boat" on Broadway; show directed by Harold Prince; won five Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical
Forced out of the company by Ovitz and Roy Furman on the morning after the premiere of Livent's production "Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance" after accounting discrepancies were discovered (August)
Launched tour of the Lloyd Webber musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", starring Donny Osmond
Hired Diahann Carroll to star in the Toronto production of Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard"
Livent produced the musical version of "Kiss of the Spider Man" in London and on Broadway; show directed by Harold Prince won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical
Last film (to date) as producer "Losin' It", directed by Curtis Hanson
Acclaimed production of "Ragtime" with a book by Terrence McNally and score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens opened in Toronto; show overseen by Drabinsky and Livent
Ousted from Cineplex Odeon in a struggle over ownership; received a reported $4 million severence
At age 14, attended first theatrical production
Produced the film adaptation of Bernard Slade's Broadway play "Tribute", with Jack Lemmon recreating his stage role
Studied law and joined the Ontario bar in 1975
First attempt at producing, a musical variety show at his school when he was 18
In January, indicted on 16 counts of felony stemming from alleged financial misdealings in connection with Livent; refused to appear in court in NYC and was deemed a fugitive
Returned to producing as one of the backers for the Toronto production of Athol Fugard's "The Island"
Corporate name changed to Livent, Inc,
Livent (US) Inc. served as presenter of Christopher Plummer in "Barrymore", a one-man show about John Barrymore; company also oversaw national tour
Had modest film success with "The Changeling"
Entered into partnership with MCA in Cineplex Odeon; entity now owned over 1,800 screens in the USA and Canada
Debut as a NYC theatrical producer; co-produced the failed show "A Broadway Musical" (played one performance)
Stricken with polio at age three
Garth Drabinsky became noted as a flamboyant, free-spending producer and those excesses ultimately led to his being dismissed from two major corporations which he founded. The Canadian-born son of an engineer, he spent much of his childhood suffering through various leg operations that were the result of a 1953 bout with polio. Perhaps to overcompensate, Drabinsky excelled in his life, nurturing an oversized ego and a theatrical style and flair. After completing law school, he worked for a time as an entertainment lawyer and even wrote a textbook on Canadian film production and the law by the time he was 25. Drabinsky apparently applied what he'd learned when he moved into feature filmmaking as executive producer of the above-average comedy "The Silent Partner" (1978, which marked the screenwriting debut of Curtis Hanson). The following year he co-founded the Cineplex Odeon Corporation, taking one 18-screen theater complex and eventually transforming it into over 1,800 screens across the USA and Canada. He did not win many fans, however, when Cineplex Odeon raised its ticket prices in NYC to the then-unheard of price of $7.50. Despite a seeming success, Drabinsky brought MCA in as a partner in the chain in 1986. Nevertheless, by the end of 1988 the enterprise was carrying long-term debt in excess of $700 million against $1.5 billion in assets, causing stock prices to decline. In the ensuing power struggle for control of Cineplex Odeon, Drabinsky was ousted, receiving a reported $4 million severance package.
Throughout his tenure at Cineplex Odeon, Drabinsky continued to dabble in film producing. He was executive producer of the award-winning thriller "The Changeling" (1979) and produced the film version of the Broadway play "Tribute" (1980), with Jack Lemmon repeating his stage success. Rounding out his feature career was the confusing spy thriller "The Amateur" (1981) and Curtis Hanson's "Losin' It" (1983), a passable teen sex comedy that featured up-and-comer Tom Cruise. Almost immediately after leaving Cineplex Odeon, he and his partner Myron Gottlieb formed Live Entertainment of Canada (whose name was eventually shortened to Livent). With only one theatrical house--Toronto's Pantages Theatre--and the rights to one show, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera", the pair was able to create what would become a publicly- traded producing entity. Drabinsky soon allowed his lavish tastes and big-budgeted productions to dominate. Livent was the driving force behind such seemingly successful ventures as a long-running tour of Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (at one time starring Donny Osmond), the Toronto company of "Sunset Boulevard" with Diahann Carroll as Norma Desmond, and the award-winning original musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman" as well as a revival of "Show Boat", both directed by Harold Prince. The much anticipated 1996 Toronto premiere of the musical "Ragtime" seemed to be another success. In order to premiere it in Manhattan, Drabinsky jumped on the bandwagon of refurbishing 42nd Street and a new theater with corporate sponsorship (the Ford Center for the Performing Arts) was built combining pieces of the old Lyric and Apollo Theatres. "Ragtime" opened to good notices and went on to receive four Tony Awards but it failed to capture the Best Musical prize.
In April 1998, theater insiders were taken aback when former agent and motion picture executive Michael Ovitz invested some $20 million in Livent, causing a restructuring with Drabinsky being bumped up to chief creative director, ostensibly to allow him more input on production in development like "Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance", a revival of "Pal Joey", and a musical adaptation of "The Sweet Smell of Success" written by John Guare, Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia. But within four months, a further shake-up occurred. The morning after the Fosse show opened in Toronto. Drabinsky was suspended from the company after an independent audit discovered "financial irregularities". The publicly-traded Livent had reportedly lost some $31 million in 1997. It was reported that the figure was higher because Drabinsky allegedly was able to shift expenses around, masking both the true costs of each production and the renovations of the four theaters Livent owned. It remains to be seen whether or not this larger-than-life impresario will rise yet again. Given history, it seems only a matter of time.
born c. 1976
born c, 1979
married in 1971
University of Toronto
"He is well known, and sometimes disliked, for his outsized ego and strong hand in the creative process. 'If you're respected, it's a collaboration,' he says. 'If there's no respect, it's a war.'" --From "The Drabinsky Rag", TIME, June 30, 1997
"The guy was crazy, he was just nuts. He ran his company like it was his own personal empire. I don't think he did anything for personal gain, but he seems to have been artificially manipulating grosses to make his shows look more profitable than they were. It was very important for him to be number one." --an anonymous producer quoted in THE WASHINGTON POST, August 23, 1998
"Garth's middle name was overspend." --producer Stewart H Lane quoted in the NEW YORK POST, August 11, 1998
"I don't know about the finances, but as an artistic enterprise, Livent is an extension of Garth." --director Richard Maltby Jr quoted in LOS ANGELES TIMES, August 14, 1998
"Drabinsky, 48, made himself into a far more public figure than the mysterious self-made man at the center of F Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age novel, 'The Great Gatsby'. But there is something of Gatsby that is recognizable in the producer's hunger for a certain kind of success and excess, in his quest for beauty and adulation (even if it required dancing beyond legal limits), and in the way he is in thrall to an ineffable dream. And show business, whatever the bottom line may ultimately be, is nothing if it is not a dream. Drabinsky's equivalent of Gatsby's green light on the pier is the glittering neon lights of a Broadway marquee. When he led visitors around his new theaters or spoke about his new musicals, it was as if Gatsby were displaying his magnificent mansion and his wardrobe of impeccable shirts." --From "What's Driving Impressario Drabinsky?" by Heidi Weiss in THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, August 23, 1998
". . . it's painful for me to contemplate, but I haven't been a good family man." --Drabinsky quoted by John Lahr in THE NEW YORKER, June 2, 1997
"He didn't have the power of his body. The force of his power is, I think, born out of that [childhood bout with polio]. He made himself fly, not just fall. He's been struggling to get up all his life. I think he's looking for a story that can heal. He believes in music. He understands that music has a power to ascend." --"Ragtime" director Frank Galati in THE NEW YORKER, June 2, 1997
"I never let enticing opportunity go by without trying to take advantage of it. Is that driven? I don't know how to do anything unless it's to the best of my abilities. Is that driven? 'Driven' is a comfort word for the lazy." --Garth Drabinsky to the London TIMES, May 5, 1998
"His reputation for profligacy dates to his tumultuous reign as head of Cineplex [Odeon]. He took a small company, that in 1979, owned 18 movie theaters and turned it into a Hollywood powerhouse with 1,800 screens in North America. He also pushed Cineplex Odeon into film production and distribution. But the company's long-term debt soard to $650 million. . . . Drabinsky's tenure . . . keeps coming up because, on Broadway, there is suspicion that the producer is repeating himself. Livent is expanding all the time, building new theaters (in New York, Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver) and pumping out productions of 'Ragtime' even before the show establishes itself as a bona-fide hit, The question is: Where is the revenue coming from?" --From DAILY NEWS, February 5, 1998
". . . Drabinsky is brash, uncompromising, impolite, entrepreneurial and intensely competitive--the un-Canadian." --From LOS ANGELES TIMES, November 10, 1996
"Can people say no to you?"
Drabinsky: "People can question my decisions as long as they do so with substance, as opposed to just that emotional response. If they're just being obstinate and saying the opposite, there's no conversation. I'm the happiest person inthe world when somebody has a great idea." --From INTHEATER, January 16, 1998