EXCLUSIVE: Paradise Square has had a bumpy road to Eden.
Nominated for 10 Tony Awards, the second-highest total of the season, it was Broadway’s worst-selling musical in the week ending on May 8, posting just $194,000 in ticket sales. Since its first preview on March 15 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, it hasn’t come close to its weekly breakeven — $599,000, per an estimate in its 2019 operating agreement. (Comparably sized musicals usually cost more to run.)
A new lawsuit against Paradise Square Broadway LP filed in New York Supreme Court, not far from where the Civil War-era musical is set, provides a window into the Garth Drabinsky production. It’s the Canadian producer’s first show on Broadway since he was convicted in 2009 in Ottawa, Ontario, of defrauding Livent Inc. shareholders of nearly half a billion dollars. Publicly-traded Livent, which Drabinsky co-founded, filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998.
Scott Mallalieu, an established group sales agent who runs greatwhiteway.com, said in his complaint that he was retained in December 2020 to oversee Paradise Square sales to church, travel and other groups. Working initially as a part-time consultant, he reported directly to Drabinsky.
As part of his role, the group sales specialist was to “develop and oversee education/corporate programs, including focusing on recent current events (BLM) with Paradise Square as a vehicle for group education and diversity and inclusion,” according to Mallalieu’s contract, which was included in the court filing. He was to create sales plans to colleges and universities, “including Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” and to Black and Irish American “Affinity Groups,” mirroring the characters in the show.
Mallalieu also was tasked with establishing a relationship with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History. The nonprofit organization previously collaborated with the producers of Hamilton to create the Hamilton Education Program, which offers a curriculum about the era of Alexander Hamilton as well as subsidized performances of the blockbuster to students from schools and districts with a high percentage of low-income families.
Mallalieu wasn’t given much of a chance to build a diverse audience, according to his suit. Within a few months, without explanation, he was shut out of Paradise Square meetings and communications. Drabinsky and other production executives stopped responding to his emails.
On September 9, 2021, after Mallalieu emailed Drabinsky and others about $9,000 in unpaid invoices, he said in the complaint, Mallalieu was locked out of his Paradise Square email account. Per his contract, he was days away from beginning a full-time job with the production, at $100,000 a year, plus bonuses and commissions contingent on meeting group sales targets.
On Oct. 6, 2021, after three months without compensation, Mallalieu was forced to resign, he said in the suit. He’s seeking $9,000, attorney’s fees and damages of at least an additional $9,000. Mallalieu declined to comment beyond the complaint.
“The case has no merit,” Richard Roth, a lawyer retained by Paradise Square Broadway LP, told Broadway Journal. “He simply walked off the job. He voluntarily quit.” Roth declined to elaborate.
Jim Byk, a production spokesman, said the weekly breakeven is now “significantly lower” than $599,000 because “a number of the show’s operating costs are variable.” He declined to be specific or provide documentation.
Byk said grosses were depressed because “the show shut down for two weeks almost immediately after opening, due to numerous cases of COVID within the company, and for the second time this year had to start again from scratch, having lost all marketing momentum.” (Sales were even worse than they appear. As with all Broadway shows, proceeds to the production are about 10 percent below weekly published grosses, due to mandatory deductions such as credit card fees.) Byk said that “business has improved substantially following the Tony Award nominations.”
On May 6, Paradise Square Broadway LP filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to increase its capitalization by $1.5 million to $15 million. Occurring a month after the show opened, the filing, which was first reported by Marc Hershberg in Forbes, was highly unusual.
Paradise Square has had other challenges in what’s been a daunting time for Broadway producers. Earlier this year, Drabinsky temporarily ran afoul of Actors’ Equity Association, according to the union.
On Feb. 21, Equity instructed its members not to report to work at Paradise Square “due primarily to the producers’ failure to provide our members with contracts reflecting their agreed-upon terms of employment,” an Equity spokesman said in an email to Broadway Journal, adding that there were also contract violations. “We worked with the show to address those issues, and our members were back at work the next day.”
Should Paradise Square defy the critical consensus and audience indifference to become a hit, Drabinsky may not be in line for the upside typically afforded lead producers. Although his name is first above the title, the general partner is Teatro North LLC. That entity is led by Bernard Abrams, who is president of Paradise Square Broadway LP and Drabinsky’s associate on Sousatzka, a 2017 musical that flopped in Toronto before it could transfer to Broadway.
On Paradise Square, Drabinsky earns a onetime producing fee of $100,000, a $5,000 weekly office charge, a minimum weekly royalty of $2,181 against 4 percent of weekly operating profits, or 1.5 percent of box office with no minimum guarantee, according to the operating agreement. It makes no mention of Drabinsky earning net profits or adjusted net profits — although at this point, any discussion of Paradise Square profits is aspirational at best.