Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb’s two-day sentencing hearing ended Tuesday, with Justice Mary Lou Benotto scheduled to sentence on August 5th.
Drabinsky and Gottlieb were convicted of fraud and forgery in an Ontario court in March and have been awaiting their sentences both legal-wise and in the court of public opinion.
For anyone who wasn’t paying attention to professional musical theatre in Canada through most of the 90s, Drabinsky was the driving force behind the theatre production company Livent. In its heyday, Livent produced multiple hit musicals and had its fingers in theatres in Toronto, Chicago, New York and Vancouver.
The 1995 construction of the then-Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver was accompanied by a tidal wave of publicist-generated excitement. Up until that point, our city had been temporary host to varying touring productions of Broadway shows, but the Ford Centre would ostensibly mean bigger-budget shows with longer runs that weren’t beholden to the economics and logistics of transporting sets.
I covered live theatre for a youth publication, at the time, and I reviewed most, if not all, of the Livent productions that came to town including Joseph, Phantom, Showboat and Sunset Boulevard.
That was before it all came crashing down. In August of 1998, Drabinsky and Gottlieb were forcibly removed from their offices and found themselves facing a $225 million lawsuit from Livent’s new management.
Out came the allegations of cooked-books, financial mismanagement, corporate theft, and fraud. Gottlieb and Drabinsky were investigated by American and Canadian authorities and were eventually indicted in New York, although they never showed up in the U.S. court to face the music.
Now that the duo has been convicted in Canada and are awaiting sentencing, some notable artistic luminaries have come out to have their say as well. For a man who, by all accounts, defrauded investors of half a billion dollars, Drabinsky seems to have no shortage of famous friends defending him
Several of those filed letters with the court in support of Drabinsky:
Actor Martha Henry, Companion of the Order of Canada, compares him to such figures as Orson Wells [sic], Donald Trump, Oscar Wilde, Harry Houdini and Conrad Black (perhaps some artistic foreshadowing?). [emphasis mine]
She continues, “I hope it’s possible to take into account Mr. Drabinsky’s very real strengths (how much poorer our mythology would be without him) and consider leniency in his sentencing. Garth will, and should, live to flourish again. And again, and again. We look forward to reading about his next adventure and in many ways, we admire him and wish we all had some of his intelligence, his showmanship and his bold, risk-taking vision.”
Emmy and Tony award-winning Actor Christopher Plummer writes, “. . . [T]his is the only side of Drabinsky that I know – Garth the Optimist, the Achiever, who, lest we forget, has never ceased to stimulate the Arts and contribute to the culture of his own country with such ferocity and such conviction.”
Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow contributes, “There is a life history here of someone raising himself by his own bootstraps to the pinnacle of his profession. That he has, after years of visionary theatrical entrepreneurship, come to this, I cannot view as anything less than a personal tragedy.”
Livent’s productions did often win critical acclaim and amassed 19 Tony awards. And, despite the terrible things Drabinsky has been accused and convicted of, I’ll always be grateful for his support of Ragtime, one of the first musicals that really inspired my interest in the genre.
I’m not questioning Drabinsky’s influence on Canadian theatre and the arts, but he and some of his supporters seem to be living in a different world than the rest of us. People were defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars, countless jobs were lost and who really knows how many lives were ruined by this man’s actions.
But, you wouldn’t know that from the almost hagiographic letters of support filed with the judge. Based on those, you could be forgiven for thinking he was up for another prestigious award.
While the new revival of Ragtime (unaffiliated with Drabinsky) on Broadway is cause for celebration, where Drabinsky will be hanging his hat on its opening night in November, is still up in the air, at least until the 5th of August.