Garth H Drabinsky
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.