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‘Rebecca’ Is Dead; Suspects in $12 Million Fiasco Missing

A scene from the ill-fated musical "Rebecca." Latest developments in the off-stage drama include the arrest of the man who was hired to find investors. The producers have filed a lawsuit against Mark Hotton. Photographer: VBW, Alexander Ch. Wulz via Bloomberg

The lawyer representing a producer of “Rebecca” last night released the transcript of an e-mail that, he said, was responsible for the collapse of the $12 million musical.

The story of the alleged e-mail -- and of “Rebecca” itself -- provided the latest twist in one of Broadway’s most riveting backstage dramas in memory. Even the legendary flop “Moose Murders” at least made it to opening night before promptly closing.

Ronald Russo, a lawyer with Schlam Stone & Dolan and a former federal prosecutor, represents Ben Sprecher, the doomed show’s lead producer with Louise Forlenza.

Russo said that the e-mail had been turned over to authorities who are investigating, but the identity of the authorities has proven to be as elusive as “Paul Abrams,” whose purported death last summer, the producers said at the time, had led to a $4.5 million shortfall in the show’s budget.

Evidence of Abrams’s life or death has yet to be found.

“It is a near certainty that the man Paul Abrams was made up several months ago to defraud other investors as a placeholder,” according to a transcript of the e-mail released by Russo, “while Mr. Sprecher continued to try and raise money.”

No Identity

Russo said the e-mail was sent to someone prepared to invest an eleventh-hour seven figures to save the show. The text doesn’t identify the sender or recipient.

“It compromises the investigation” to disclose who’s conducting it, Russo said, adding that Sprecher is “cooperating 100 percent.”

The alleged e-mail warns the unidentified investor against putting money in the show, warning that “there will be charges of fraud, lawsuits, etc.”

Russo said that the recipient of the e-mail, who pulled out of the show after receiving the electronic missive, was to have remained anonymous.

“The only way that he could have been learned was hacking my client’s computer,” Russo said. “There are dozens of untruths in the e-mail sent to sabotage, it turns out successfully, ‘Rebecca.’”

“Ben has been terribly victimized and I hope to establish that,” Russo said.

Reached Monday evening on his cell phone, Philip J. Smith, chairman of the Shubert Organization, said it was his understanding that “Ben turned the e-mail over to the Feds.”

Shubert, an investor in the show as well as its landlord, would not have any comment on the collapse of “Rebecca,” based on the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier novel about a young bride haunted by her predecessor. Nor would he specify how much Broadway’s biggest landlord had invested in the musical.

New Tenant

Shubert may already have another tenant for the Broadhurst Theatre, where “Rebecca” was to open, the likeliest one being “Hands on a Hard Body,” a new musical that has received excellent reviews in California.

Producers and lawyers not involved said investors generally are entitled to a full refund if a show doesn’t open by a set date, unless they waive that right. Russo said the “Rebecca” investors did not waive it and the lead producers are liable.

“If this doesn’t go on, Ben will be destroyed,” he said.

The show was to be directed by Francesca Zambello and Michael Blakemore, following extended runs in various European cities. A planned opening last spring was canceled when Sprecher and Forlenza, known legally as general partners, were still searching for money even after the marquee had gone up.

“It’s every producers’ nightmare,” said producer Stewart Lane, who isn’t involved with “Rebecca.” “When you’re the general partner, you’re responsible, you’re liable. You are it.”

Muse highlights include Lance Esplund on art.

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