TORONTO — Garth Drabinsky has no desire to look backward.
The theatre mogul makes his long-anticipated return with "Sousatzka." The globetrotting musical will have its world premiere with previews beginning Saturday at Toronto's Elgin Theatre ahead of its official opening March 23. A Broadway run is planned for later this year.
Drabinsky will be looking to reassert his role as a producing powerhouse with past hits including "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." All the while, he appears keen to emerge from the shadows of previous and current legal woes.
In 2009, the ex-CEO of the now defunct Livent Inc. and his business partner Myron Gottlieb were found guilty of fraud in connection with a book-cooking scheme that eventually led to the company's bankruptcy. Drabinsky's seven-year sentence was later reduced on appeal, and he was granted full parole in 2014.
The Ontario Securities Commission is currently looking to ban Drabinsky from acting as a director or officer of a public company in Ontario, and also wants to limit his participation in capital markets.
Drabinsky declined to delve into discussions about his legal issues in an interview ahead of the opening.
"I choose not to ... because it's the past," he said when asked about his life since his fraud conviction.
"I'm looking at my future."
Drabinsky said "there's always been keen interest" in anything he is involved with in musical theatre, and that the level of public pressure he faces has been consistent given how closely the media scrutinizes his work.
"I wouldn't have approached the show any differently than I would approach any other. The difference this time is that I'm free to spend all of my time on the creative process of the musical.
"Creatively, the process is the same, and I am focused on just doing important good work. I hope it's perceived that way by the public, and the rest will take care of itself."
Based on the Bernice Rubens novel "Madame Sousatzka," the musical is set in London in 1982.
The production explores the story of musical prodigy Themba (newcomer Jordan Barrow) torn between his mother Xholiswa, a political refugee from South Africa (Tony Award nominee Montego Glover) and his brilliant, eccentric piano teacher Sousatzka (Tony winner Victoria Clark).
The women must work toward crossing both cultural and racial divides to find common ground, or risk the young musician's destiny in the process.
"Sousatzka" flashes back to 1970s Soweto, as well as to Warsaw before the Second World War and during the Nazi occupation.
Beyond the cast of 47 Canadian and American performers, Drabinsky works in tandem with an international team behind the scenes. The production is helmed by director Adrian Noble, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the U.K.
American playwright and three-time Tony nominee Craig Lucas created the book for "Sousatzka," featuring choreography by Argentinian-born Tony nominee Graciela Daniele. The score features a pair of American musical heavyweights: Oscar- and Grammy-winning American composer David Shire and lyrics by Tony winner Richard Maltby Jr.
While some may be prone to jitters ahead of a debut, don't count Drabinsky among them.
"I'm never nervous to watch my show because by opening night, I am confident that all of the preparation has been done," he said.
"I'm obviously fascinated by how the audience is going to react at every moment because I know the show so well. I've sat through rehearsals for months, and I know when I expect to hear a pin drop in the theatre, and I know when I'm expecting a loud laugh, and I know when I'm expecting an enthusiastic applause from the performance musically....
"It's why I work so hard to bring about another musical for the world, and one hopes the response is going to be consistent with my expectations."
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