Is Garth Drabinsky poised for a comeback?
One of the more intriguing Canadian films that screened at this year's TIFF chronicled one time theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky. Few would argue that the quality and reputation of theatre in Toronto was never as great then during Drabinsky's reign - an all too brief period of time in the early 90s that saw the staging of mega-productions like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime and Show Boat.
Many will remember how the story ended - with theatre production company Livent in ruins and Drabinsky and partner Myron Gottlieb behind bars. But this new film, Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky, takes us on an entertaining journey of Drabinsky's early years through to the present, and can't help make us wonder if the subject is poised for a second act.
Or should I write third act. Those familiar with the man's history will know that Drabinsky essentially invented the multiplex and the modern day movie going experience when he founded Cineplex (later to become Cineplex Odeon under his watch). After being forced out of his own company he turned his eye to live theatre. His productions took Toronto, London and Broadway by storm and won 19 Tony Awards.
Earlier this week I caught up with Show Stopper's director Barry Avrich to learn more about his subject and why he decided to take him on. Avrich has know Drabinsky for close to 25 years. He worked for him, was inspired by him and at the same time witnessed his infamous tyranny.
What led you to direct a film about Garth Drabinksy?
I wanted to tell a story of a provocative character who took monstrous risks in the name of creativity and ultimately paid an equally monstrous price for his dream. This is a story of a personal and public battle between idealism and ego. Bernie Madoff is psychopath. Garth Drabinsky is not.
You use a lot of archival interview footage of Drabinsky in the film. Did you attempt to interview him for the film?
I used archival footage to show the evolution of a career and character. We did meet several times during his incarceration but on no occasion did I ask for his blessing or participation. I never felt it would add anything as the archival footage painted the picture I wanted to portray.
Would you say the film is sympathetic to the subject?
I will let the audience make up their own mind. This was never going to be an expose or hatchet job. The trial is over. I made the film for people who love show business stories and not critics who are looking for a shattering news item that I failed to uncover. Toronto grew up with this story and its fascinating effect both positively and adversely.
You can't argue that his business accomplishments delivered benefits to Toronto and other related markets and ancillary businesses and at the same time you must acknowledge that failure came at a steep price for investors, artists and the public who enjoyed a variety of entertainment.
What was your experience like screening this for TIFF audiences?
The screenings were very well received. I try to make my films highly entertaining as the subject is show business. The feedback has been great. Again, there will be those that felt that I didn't punish or go far enough is exposing the depths of Drabinsky's crimes. To that I say, go read the 18,000 pages of court transcripts. Riveting.
What do you think Drabinsky would think of the film?
I believe that Drabinsky will think making a film is premature as he most likely aspires to a come back. He will see this as exploitative on the surface but I do think it was a very fair.
Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky opens September 21st at the Varsity.