Last week production on Rebecca, based on the 1938 gothic novel and subsequent hitchock thriller about the haunted estate at Manderlay came to an uncompromisingly abrupt halt. Paul Abrams, the mysterious overseas producer who’s ship had come to the rescue back in August when lead producer, Ben Sprecher, announced a $4.5 million shortfall, took his exit just as suddenly as reports filtered in that he had died of malaria last week. Leaving the production in the lurch, Sprecher was forced to admit that he had never actually met Mr. Abrams, had corresponded with him simply via email and, in the absence of both a death certificate or obituary, couldn’t be certain that the mysterious investor ever existed.
You can read more about the trials and tribulations of bringing this megamusical to Broadway here. Yesterday, the New York Times broke an article about a potential ensuing lawsuit which will get to the bottom of what is fiction and what is fact.
But ultimately, what I find most interesting about this whole muddle is why anyone would want to bring Rebecca to Broadway in the first place. It debuted in Vienna to middling reviews, toured parts of Europe and Japan where audiences consistently surmised that the the spectacle far outweighed any semblance of a quality book or score, and then had to cancel its West End premiere because of similar lack of funding. Mr. Sprecher has been ushering the project most of the way, with a seemingly vested interest in mounting the next great megamusical… arguably, a genre which died with Miss Saigon in 1989.
Does Broadway really need more Spidermen and Mary Poppinses? Clearly, both these shows have done something right: they’ve created something which a whole family can attend together. Rebecca, though, is certainly not. But perhaps Rebecca was trying to skewer that other demographic with pocketfuls of disposable income: tourist retirees. Though from a short term financial viewpoint an overblown spectacle based on familiar material may be the way to bring in every Mr and Mrs Smith from Phoenix to Philly, how does it encourage the growth of the medium aristically? Some would argue that Broadway is the Hollywood of theatre, but even Hollywood has its own genre bending outputs these days. Even in the current economic climate, could we really expect a tepid adaptation of a 1940’s Hitchcock flick to bring in larger returns than an artistically innovative musical by, say, Trey Anastasio and Doug Wright about a gaggle of American dreamers engaged in an endurance test to win a pickup truck?
Of course Broadway will always be about financial rewards, but did Rebecca ever really stand a shot of packing them in like a certain precocious 9 year-old does? What’s next if Ben Sprecher survives this torrent of bad publicity? Perhaps he’ll attempt to mount one of the many other Hitchcock films no family would ever step foot into. The Birds: The Musical anyone?