Embattled Broadway producer Garth Drabinsky has sued theatrical union Actors' Equity Association for defamation. This move was in response to the union barring its members from working with the Paradise Square producer citing unpaid wages and allegations of unsafe work environments. The news, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, was confirmed by Playbill via AEA press representative David Levy.
“The lawsuit filed against Equity is entirely without merit, and Equity is confident it will prevail in this lawsuit. Equity will vigorously contest the suit and demonstrate that our actions were fully consistent with our legal responsibilities to protect our members,” reads an official response from the union.
"Actors Equity [sic]...has turned Drabinsky’s remarkable record of achievements on its head by accusing Drabinsky of being a racist and creating a hostile and unsafe work environment stemming from the production of Paradise Square," the suit alleges in a copy obtained by Playbill. "Without any evidentiary hearing or his ability to disprove the malicious and false accusations against him, Actors Equity [sic] went one step further by publicly branding Drabinsky with its Scarlet Letter and placing Drabinsky on its self-proclaimed 'blacklist.'" The filing also called Equity's behavior as "reckless, callous, outrageous and deplora."
The filing goes on to list multiple grievances from the Broadway and pre-Broadway engagements of Paradise Square, among them a 2021 letter sent by Equity calling for Drabinsky's removal from the production following his use of "inappropriate and unwanted racial slurs."
In response, Drabinsky claims that during a company meeting to discuss racial issues within the show, the producer shared a story from working on the 1993 Hal Prince-directed revival of Show Boat, specifically confronting the racial slurs in its script, which was written in 1927. "Drabinsky related this difficult experience so that everyone present would understand that the racial issues of Paradise Square, while challenging and sometimes overwhelming, had to be emphatically confronted," the filing explains. Included in the materials are sheet music to Show Boat's 'Ol' Man River.'"
The suit goes on to cite a number of "Black American artists" that Drabinsky "made...his priority to engage...in principal roles and major creative positions in his productions," including Vanessa Williams, Diahann Carroll, Gretha Boston, Michel Bell, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Desmond Richardson, Valarie Pettiford, Joaquina Kalukango, Sidney DuPont, Bill T. Jones, Toni-Leslie James, Masi Asare, and "countless other less prominent Black Americans who were vital contributors to the artistic and commercial success of his productions."
Equity added Drabinsky to its "Do Not Work" list July 17 shortly following the final Broadway performance of Paradise Square, at the request of the production's actors and stage managers. The move rendered Drabinsky unable to hire members of Equity, effectively ending his ability to produce on Broadway and at many major theatrical venues across the country, many of which operate under contracts requiring the use of Equity performers.
The legal drama surrounding Paradise Square is not a first for Drabinsky. The Tony-winning Ragtime and Show Boat producer was convicted of fraud and forgery in 2009 in Canada, spending 17 months in prison. Paradise Square was Drabinsky's first Broadway outing since being granted parole and released from prison in 2014. Equity also put a stop work order on the production earlier this year following contract disputes, a move that lasted only one day.