UPDATE: Producer Ben Sprecher’s 11-year quest to bring Rebecca the Musical to Broadway is over. Last year, he lost the rights to produce the show and now must repay his investors $5.5 million, his lawyer said in opening statements in the civil trial against his former press agent, Marc Thibodeau.
Sprecher, his partner, Louise Forlenza, and their lawyer, Erik Groothuis, all declined further comment. An email to licensor VBW International wasn’t returned.
The disclosure was a dramatic start to what’s expected to be a two-week trial in New York Supreme Court that should shine a light on Broadway financing and how it can go awry. The witness list includes a few power players, including producer David Stone, who worked with Thibodeau in the past, as well as theatrical lawyer Scott Lazarus, who represented Rebecca Broadway LP. Sprecher, Thibodeau and Forlenza are also expected to testify.
Rebecca the Musical, based on the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier novel, originated in Vienna in 2006. Forlenza and Sprecher secured the English language rights in 2008, according to a Vanity Fair story, and originally planned to open it first in the West End, but the basement to their London theater flooded during exploratory excavation. On Broadway, Sprecher twice had to postpone it in 2012 because of lack of financing. The second and ultimately final delay he publicly attributed to the death of a major investor. It turned out the dead man and three other purported backers behind a $4.5 million commitment never existed.
They were a fabrication of a grifter and former stock broker named Mark Hotton, whom Sprecher had hired for fundraising and was ultimately taken in by. (In 2015, Hotton was sentenced to 11 years in Federal prison for ” a series of securities fraud schemes, mail fraud schemes and other crimes,” according to a Justice Dept. press release.)
Before Hotton’s role was clear, Thibodeau, the press agent, sent emails under two pseudonyms in 2012 to a Florida pharmaceutical executive (and his lawyers) who had read about the show’s woes and wanted to invest. Thibodeau’s emails warned against getting involved, saying that “the walls are about to cave in” on Sprecher and the show. Thibodeau’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg, portrayed his client today as a man of conscience who wanted to protect an innocent investor. Miltenberg said Sprecher and Forlenza weren’t close to raising the $12 million capitalization, and were making the publicist a scapegoat.
“Someone had to pay for this show failing,” Miltenberg said. “This show had a longer run in the courts than it ever would’ve had on Broadway.”
Groothuis, the lawyer for the production company, said Thibodeau singlehandedly sabotaged Rebecca. Sprecher and Forlenza, he said, had $11 million in cash and commitments before the emails that spooked the investor, who had put a crucial $2.5 million in escrow. “The show had a clear path to opening night,” the lawyer said. He asked the jury to hold Thibodeau “accountable for destroying Rebecca.”
Judge Jeffrey Oing ruled in 2015 in Sprecher and Forlenza’s favor that Thibodeau breached his contract to promote the show, a decision affirmed in 2016 by the New York State Court of Appeals. The trial will determine what if any damages Thibodeau owes to Rebecca Broadway LP, as well as whether Thibodeau defamed Rebecca and committed “tortious (or wrongful) interference.”
The show’s now-dated website, which is still up, has a post entitled: “Rebecca producers aiming for Broadway bow of 2017.” Behind the headline is an August 2016 Playbill story on the lawsuit.