EXCLUSIVE: On Sept. 27, 2012, four days before Rebecca the Musical was to begin rehearsals, it sold 27 tickets.
The day’s “wrap,” or sales, was $2,952.50, according to an internal production document introduced this week in the Rebecca civil trial.
Its advance sale was $1.035 million, the document said. “That would be a weak advance,” testified Aaron Lustbader, a partner at Foresight Theatrical, the general manager of such shows as Phantom of the Opera. Lustbader wasn’t involved in Rebecca, which was postponed for the third and final time a day before rehearsals were to start. Big musicals typically wrap $50,000 each day before previews, he testified yesterday.
Lawyers for Rebecca‘s former press agent, Marc Thibodeau, produced Lustbader and the sales figures at the end of two weeks of witness testimony. The numbers were intended to bolster Thibodeau’s defense that he was telling the truth when he surreptitiously warned a prospective investor about getting involved in the $12 million musical. In a Sept. 28, 2012, email, written under the pseudonym Sarah Finkelstein, the press agent cited “anemic ticket sales” and predicted that the show would become a scandal because an overseas investor who purportedly died never existed.
Rebecca Broadway LP, led by producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza, discovered Thibodeau was the author and sued him for defamation, wrongful interference and breach of contract. The producers blamed the press agent for the loss of the investor whom Thibodeau emailed as well as the show’s collapse. In 2015, New York State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Oing ruled in the producers’ favor on breach of contract. Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning, and a six member jury is to decide on the other causes of action and damages.
Rebecca Broadway is seeking $10 million in damages. Sprecher lost the rights to the show — which is based on the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier gothic novel — and Rebecca Broadway LP must repay investors $5.6 million.
To be sure, the day that Rebecca sold 27 tickets was two days after a front-page New York Times story entitled “Rebecca Sees Investor Fade, as if Dreamt.” Reporter Patrick Healy raised questions about whether the overseas investor who purportedly died was ever real. And the first preview, which had been delayed two weeks earlier, hadn’t been officially rescheduled, although there was still the ability to buy tickets online.
(Stock broker Mark Hotton was arrested in October 2012, and charged with nearly two decades of fraudulent schemes, including inventing fictitious investors and scamming the producers out of tens of thousands of dollars. Thibodeau testified that it was clear to him in late September that a “massive fraud” had occurred and that’s why he sent the email to the investor — and others to the investor’s lawyers. Thibodeau testified that when he tried to warn Sprecher about Hotton, Sprecher brushed him off. Sprecher testified that Thibodeau’s warnings were irrelevant then because he was focused on raising money elsewhere.)
Sprecher testified that he believed Rebecca, which was first produced in Vienna, would appeal to women and tourists, who dominate the Broadway audience. “It is beautiful, it has fantastic music,” he said on April 28. “It is a phenomenally compelling story that surprises you, and the play is essentially redemptive, and that is a very important thing for me whenever I produce anything.”
Moreover, it would’ve had a staircase go up in flames at the estate, known as Manderley. “I mean we burn Manderley to the ground,” Sprecher said. “Literally burn the whole thing to the ground eight times a week. It’s got spectacle. It appeals to people interested in that.”
Regarding the $1 million advance sale, Sprecher testified on April 28: “Everybody seemed pleased to me, because we haven’t opened the box office yet.”
On May 1, the jury heard excerpts from a Thibodeau video deposition, in which he cited the huge advance of various blockbusters, including $37 million for the original, 1991 Broadway production of Miss Saigon. A few hours later, Sprecher was more muted under cross-examination.
“You testified that you were pleased by the advance sale of Rebecca of $1 million, correct?” Andrew Miltenberg, one of Thibodeau’s lawyers, asked.
“Yes, it seemed okay.”
“You were pleased with that?”
“I said, it seemed okay.”