TORONTO—Almost a decade after his fraud conviction, theatre mogul Garth Drabinsky is poised for a major return to the stage with the world premiere of “Sousatzka” in Toronto ahead of its Broadway debut.
The ex-CEO of the now defunct Livent Inc. and his business partner Myron Gottlieb were convicted in 2009 in connection with a book-cooking scheme that eventually led to the company’s bankruptcy. Drabinsky’s seven-year sentence was later reduced on appeal, and he was granted full parole in 2014.
Now, the producer behind “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Show Boat” is hoping to find fresh success with “Sousatzka.”
“He’s the best producer I ever worked with. He’s still the best producer I ever worked with,” said “Sousatzka” lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. Thursday during a press day for the musical.
“Whatever he did, whatever he didn’t do, whatever happened to him, you know, he’s certainly paid the price for it. And if that gives him the privilege of having a comeback I don’t mind being on board because he’s an exciting person to work with.”
Based on the Bernice Rubens novel “Madame Sousatzka,” the musical is set in London in 1982 and explores the story of a musical prodigy torn between his mother, a political refugee from South Africa, and his brilliant, eccentric piano teacher. The women must work toward crossing both cultural and racial divides to find common ground, or risk the young musician’s destiny in the process.
Drabinsky said what he saw as “fundamental” to the production was solving the backstories of the principal characters, as “Sousatzka” flashes back to 1970s Soweto, as well as to Warsaw before the Second World War and during the Nazi occupation.
“In so doing, I was able to place the musical in the context of the political upheaval of certain periods of the 20th century … and hopefully give it a political and social relevance,” Drabinsky said in brief remarks.
“This was done, as I have said, five years ago. However, as intervening world events have unfolded, I believe the story has now become a profound fable for our times as it confronts the profound issues of race, of exile and of refugees.”
Drabinsky said the musical is not setting out to present an indictment of any past political movement or government.
“It has no agenda other than dramatizing what it takes to survive the brutality of political imprisonment, of exile and loss, which is, unfortunately, a universal trans-historical problem evident in all eras and in all continents and in every nation at one time or another.”
Previews begin Feb. 25.