Rebecca Will Not Open on Broadway This Fall; Producers Claim Investor Scared Away by "Lies"

By Kenneth Jones
September 30, 2012

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," the opening line of Daphne du Maurier's novel, "Rebecca," will not be sung on Broadway this fall. Producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza announced on Sept. 30, the day before Rebecca rehearsals were to start, that they have failed to raise capitalization for the stage musical of the romantic thriller.



In what seems fitting for a project inspired by a piece of gothic fiction, the producers are blaming the show's collapse on a deadly twist of fate and mysterious, cruel characters in the shadows.

The producers claim a new investor who was able to "virtually fill in the missing gap [of funding] during the last three weeks" was scared off by a malicious email, scuttling the fall launch.

Left in the lurch are dozens of artists, actors, technicians, musicians and support personnel. This is the second time the lead producers have promised, and were forced to scotch, a 2012 Broadway launch of the pop musical about the new lady of the English estate called Manderley, a mansion haunted by the titular first wife of Maxim de Winter. The musical by writer Michael Kunze and composer Sylvester Levay has been popular in European markets. There was a Broadway advance sale of $1 million, the producers said.

Late this summer, the producers had delayed the start of rehearsals by two weeks (to Oct. 1) due to what they said was the early-August death of a major investor who was responsible for one-third of the show's $12 million capitalization. The show also had an earlier false start: It was to premiere in early 2012, and the marquee at the Broadhurst Theatre was already in place, but on Jan. 24, the lead producers said that they didn't have all of the money, so they postponed the show to the fall, necessitating cast changes. 

Following the death of the unnamed overseas investor, Sprecher said that he was pursuing the estate to secure the promised funds, and was also seeking fresh investors. Sprecher would not release the name of the late investor, but an investigation by the New York Times unearthed the name — a Paul Abrams. However, the paper revealed that it could find no death notice of a Paul Abrams, leaving readers with the impression that Abrams was fictional. The Times reported that Sprecher had never met Abrams in person or spoken to him.

As late as Sept. 26, the hopes of the cast of the musical were high. They were informed by stage management in a Sept. 26 email that rehearsals would commence on Oct. 1, indicating that the show's previously reported capitalization issues were expected to be cleared up.

The Sept. 30 statement from the producers indicated that "they were left with no option but to postpone the show."

Wietske van Tongeren in the original Vienna production

It continued: "After Paul Abrams, a major investor, passed away in London, on Aug. 5, 2012, and who, with three other colleagues, represented the last portion of $4.5 million of the full capitalization for the production, The Shubert Organization generously granted a delay and rehearsals were postponed for several weeks. Sprecher and Forlenza had subsequently managed to virtually fill in the missing gap during the last three weeks, primarily from a new investor, their own funds and an additional commitment from an investor who had already made a substantial investment."

It went on, "On Friday, Sept. 28, at approximately 1 PM, Sprecher and Forlenza were informed that an extremely malicious e-mail, filled with lies and innuendo, had been sent directly to the new investor that morning from an anonymous third party. The e-mail was designed to scare this investor away and it succeeded. The investor withdrew."

Sprecher said, in a not completely clear statement, "Why anyone would be so hateful and cruel and would go to such a huge amount of effort to uncover confidential information, including the details of a private transaction and the identities of an individual and his attorneys, and send such an e-mail with the goal being to shut down a production that involves the jobs of over a hundred people and their families, is something I am having a terrible time grasping. This is devastating for everyone involved in this wonderful and unique production. All that we have ever wanted to do is put on this amazing show. We will not stop our efforts to mount this show and alternatives are already unfolding. We will continue doing everything we can to protect this asset and our investors. We have provided a copy of this e-mail to the proper authorities and a criminal investigation is already under way."

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The marquee has been up, the sets were being created and promotional appearances were made in recent weeks.

Rehearsals were originally to have begun Sept. 10 toward a Nov. 18 opening at the Broadhurst Theatre. Previews were scheduled to begin Oct. 30. New first-preview and opening dates were expected to be announced.

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The Rebecca marquee at the Broadhurst Theatre

Sprecher and Forlenza informed the cast, creators and production team Sept. 21 that they have secured commitments from several sources to fill the gap in capitalization. "Signed contracts for those investments have gone out and the funds transfers are expected within days. As soon as that occurs, production will resume and the new first-rehearsal date set. The cast was also informed that they will be paid for next week [the week of Sept. 24], whether or not rehearsals are able to begin next week. But the hope is that they will."

The European-bred musical was originally scheduled for the 2011-12 Broadway season with Sierra Boggess and Tam Mutu as its stars. It was postponed in January 2012 due to incomplete capitalization, and its stars moved on to other projects. The production was rescheduled — with Jill Paice and Ryan Silverman as its new leading players, "I" and her husband, Maxim de Winter, respectively — to begin this fall at the Broadhurst.

Tony Award winner Michael Blakemore (Noises Off, Copenhagen, City of Angels) and Francesca Zambello (The Little Mermaid, Little House on the Prairie) will co-direct.

The musical has original book and lyrics by Michael Kunze, music by Sylvester Levay, English book adaptation by two-time Tony Award winner Christopher Hampton (Sunset Boulevard) and English lyrics by Hampton and Kunze.

The Broadway production was to mark the English-language premiere of the show, and includes storytelling amendments and new staging since its engagements in Europe.

Multiple Tony-nominated director-choreographer Graciela Daniele (Once On This Island, Ragtime) was to create the musical staging for the Broadway production.

Here's how producers bill the show: Rebecca is a spectacular new musical drawn from the classic Daphne du Maurier novel about love and obsession reaching from beyond the grave. In this romantic thriller, Maxim de Winter brings his new wife [known only as 'I'] home to his estate of Manderley. There she meets the intimidating housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who had a very special relationship with Maxim's first wife, the beautiful Rebecca, who died a year earlier in a boating accident. The young woman discovers Manderley is a house of devastating secrets, and the mystery of Rebecca may be the greatest of them all as she finds the strength to challenge Mrs. Danvers and save her marriage."

The principal cast of Rebecca was feature Karen Mason (Sunset Boulevard, Mamma Mia!) as Mrs. Danvers, two-time Tony Award nominee Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera) as Frank Crawley, James Barbour (Beauty and the Beast, A Tale of Two Cities) as Jack Favell, Donna English (Lend Me a Tenor) as Beatrice de Winter, Nick Wyman (Les Misérables) as Giles and Henry Stram (1996 Obie winner, Broadway's Titanic) as Ben.

Scenic design is by Peter J. Davidson, costumes are by Jane Greenwood, lighting is by Mark McCullough, sound is by Peter Fitzgerald, hair and wig design is by Tom Watson, make-up design is by Ashley Ryan, special effects are by Gregory Meeh and projections are by Sven Ortel. Musical direction and supervision are by Kevin Stites.

Rebecca had its world premiere in 2006 by Vereinigte Buhnen Wien at the Raimund Theater in Vienna, where it played for more than three years. Productions of Rebecca have also played Budapest, Hungary; Bucharest, Romania; Helsinki, Finland; Stuttgart, Germany; St. Gallen, Switzerland and at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo.

For more information, visit RebeccaTheMusical.com.

Here's a look at the German company: