Tuesday, October 23, 2012

“Rebecca” meets “The Producers”

I don’t pay all that much attention to Broadway goings-on, but the hoopla over Rebecca: The Musical has absolutely piqued my interest. Enough so that:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

For those unfamiliar with the novels of Daphne Du Maurier or 1940’s B&W Alfred Hitchcock movies, Rebecca – which opens with the line about about dreaming of Manderley - tells the story of an unnamed woman who marries widower Max DeWinter and gets swept up in the mystery of the death of his first wife, Rebecca.

With one classic film about it, one might think that there’s no going back to Manderley, the mansion having burned to the ground. But a few years ago, Rebecca: The Musical was produced in Germany, and had a quite successful run.

So Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza decided to bring Rebecca: The Musical to Broadway, and began looking for backers.

It’s never cheap to mount a Broadway production, and Rebecca is no exception. It was costing something to the tune of $12M. (I’m sure the special effects when Manderley burns down weren’t going to come cheap.)

Unfortunately, in their hunt for investors, Sprecher and Forlenza ran into Mark Hotton, who agreed to play middleman.

From there on out, the story – absent a good, old-fashioned murder - is worthy of Daphne Du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock themselves.

Hotton – in exchange for expense money, a measly $60,000 in fees, and a share of the profits – agreed to find the investors Sprecher and Forlenza needed. Which he supposedly did. Instead,

“Hotton falsely represented that he had secured commitments of approximately $4.5 million to 'Rebecca’ from several overseas investors,” prosecutors wrote.

“In truth and fact, the … investors appear to be Hotton’s own inventions. The businesses of some of these investors have Web sites whose domain names are registered to Hotton and were created shortly before and during the fraud.”  (Source: NY Post.)

When the time got around to actually getting the committed money transferred – and, with Rebecca scheduled to open in November, much of that promised money has been spent -  Hotton killed off “Paul Abrams”, the lead backer, claiming that he’d died of malaria.

Abrams’ made-up assistant broke the bad news in an Aug. 5 e-mail, that Hotton allegedly shared with producers.

“Mr. Hotton, I’m so sorry to relay such Terrible news, Mr. Abrams passed away this evening and the family has asked for your attendance at the services as well the opportunity to discuss their financial well-being as you were so close to him,” the email read, according to prosecutors.

Please contact us tomorrow with your travel plans so we can arrange the family driver to pick you up.”(Source: NY Post.)

There is, of course, no trace that “Paul Abram”s ever existed, let alone that he died of malaria, let alone that the family driver was going to pick Hotton up so he could attend the services.

Sheesh. That’s an awful lot to go through for $60K, but if you factor in expense money, it might have been worthwhile.

But Hotton, a former Oppenheimer broker, was used to bigger and better dealios.

Hotton had filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2011. Creditors include a neighboring family, the Pitches, who claim they were swindled out of their life savings of more than $5 million, according to court papers.

Hmmmm. Didn’t Sprecher and Forlenza do any due diligence on this guy before partnering up with him? If I were looking for a middleman to scare up big bucks to invest in me, I think I’d take a pass on someone who’d filed for bankruptcy and had his neighbors claiming he’d “swindled [them] out of their life savings.”

In addition to the Rebecca fraud, Hotton has also been indicted for a second scam.

It seems that he and his wife had an electrical company, and bilked investors out of nearly $4M by “inventing phony work…to draw in backers”:

By creating fake invoices, the Hottons sold these accounts payable to investors who’d pay a percentage of the amount due, in exchange for full payment of that debt later, according to the unsealed indictment.

The invented $9.8 million in imaginary invoices and made $3.7 million from ripped-off investors. (Source: NY Post.)

There has to have been more in the Rebecca’s scam than the paltry $60K and some walking around money. I mean, this guy’s no petty ante thief. What do you need with $60K when you’ve pulled in $5K from your neighbors and $3.7 from “ripped-off investors” in your electrical business.

Anyway, the show must go on, mustn’t it?

Somehow, Sprecher and Forlenza found an anonymous angel investor who’d promised to bail out the production. Only to have him sprout cold wings and back out, once some phantom e-mailer tipped him off that there were problems with the production.

So for now the show is canceled. The actors, musicians, and stage crew are out of work.

And Sprecher’s left scrounging around to find the money to get the show back on its feet – or I guess he’ll be on the hook for the millions that got spent based on the promises Hotton made.

Anyway, Hotton’s been arrested, and is being held without bail. Looks like he won’t be getting back to his Long Island manse any time soon.(Which, come to think of it, looks a tad bit like Manderley.)

He’s certainly a flight of fancy risk, if nothing else.

All this is certainly given The Producers a run for its money, is it not?



Original source: Bloomberg. (The Post turned out to be so much juicier…)



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