Producer Ben Sprecher broke down on the stand today at the Rebecca civil trial in lower Manhattan, while recounting being forced to shutter the $12 million musical on the eve of its first rehearsal.
“The whole thing was a tragedy,” Sprecher testified, speaking with apparent difficulty. “I don’t know what to say.”
Sprecher scuttled the embattled show in the fall of 2012 because he and his business partner, Louise Forlenza, couldn’t complete financing. They blame the production’s former publicist, Marc Thibodeau, who had sent anonymous emails warning a prospective investor against putting in $2.25 million. Via the producing entity Rebecca Broadway LP, they sued Thibodeau for breach of contract, wrongful interference and defamation. Judge Jeffrey Oing previously ruled for the producers on breach of contract and a six-member jury will decide on damages and the two other causes of action.
While devastated by his failure to open the show, Sprecher claimed he isn’t financially responsible. During cross-examination by Thibodeau’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg, Sprecher said that while his partnership must repay $5.6 million to investors, he personally isn’t liable. “I didn’t take the money, Rebecca Broadway took the money,” he said. “The partnership has an obligation to pay them back. But me personally? No.”
On Thursday, Thibodeau testified that he sent the emails to the investor (and the investor’s lawyers) after Sprecher didn’t heed the publicist’s warnings about a stockbroker named Mark Hotton, who was raising money for the show. Thibodeau discovered a number of lawsuits alleging fraud against Hotton as part of a Google search. Soon after, Hotton was unmasked as a con man who invented fictitious investors. He’s now in federal prison. About Sprecher, Thibodeau said: “I came to believe he was either in on a fraud or covering up a fraud.”
Thibodeau said it never occurred to him that his emails would prompt the (real-life) investor to pull out of the musical, which is based on the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel.
Sprecher said that by the time Thibodeau raised concerns about Hotton, the producer was seeking money elsewhere. “The only thing that mattered was getting the show into rehearsals.”
Although the trial was originally expected to run two weeks, Judge Oing told jurors today it may run three. Sprecher continues testifying on Monday.