TIFF12 video exclusive: Show Stopper

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously asserted that Garth Drabinsky had misappropriated Livent company funds. Playback apologizes for the error.

Director Barry Avrich will restore a fallen theatre mogul’s name on the marquee with the world premiere of his documentary Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11.

“Hopefully the film tells the story about an extraordinarily creative man, intensely flawed, that got caught up in a desire to create great art that ultimately gave into desperation, and led him down the wrong path,” says Avrich.

Show Stopper tells the story of former theatrical and film producer Garth Drabinsky, who helmed theatre production company Live Entertainment Corporation of Canada (Livent), which presented several successful productions including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Fosse and Ragtime.

Drabinsky, in an earlier incarnation and along with Nat Taylor, also co-founded Cineplex Odeon in 1979.

In 2009, Drabinsky was sentenced to prison for fraud and forgery.

Avrich, who has profiled such high-profile entertainment industry heavyweights including Harvey Weinstein, Lew Wasserman and Michael Cohl, says he wanted the film to portray a balanced story on a character that continues to be debated.

“My films are neither love affairs or hatchet jobs,” Avrich told Playback ahead of the Toronto International Film Festival.

“The debate continues right through the film. Because [Cineplex and Livent] were both legitimate businesses – it wasn’t a Bernie Madoff situation of businesses that were created to defraud people. They were both businesses that also yielded a great amount of art, and the debate rages on to this day in both the film and outside the film on what Garth Drabinsky’s motives were,” he explains.

Avrich says he wanted to make the film in part to spotlight the fact that there are few Canadian moguls in the entertainment industry, and in part to give a “front row seat” to the entertainment business.

Barry Avrich

Avrich recalls meeting Drabinsky in 1988, sitting on the marble steps of the Pantages Theatre, when it was a movie multiplex screening Wall Street.

“He just happened to be sitting next to me, and you become instantly fascinated with a man who’s created so much, two great businesses, and at the same time, as I say in the film, sparkled and also turned to sand,” Avrich says.

Having worked with Drabinsky and having known him for 25 years, Avrich visited him in prison. And while his motive was not to speak to Drabinsky about that aspect of his current life, Avrich says that it is reflected in the film’s writing.

Drabinsky hasn’t yet seen the film (“To the best of my knowledge, there are no screening rooms [in prison] so he hasn’t seen it, but I’m sure he will,” says Avrich), and Avrich acknowledges that “[the film] is a tougher one for him” because it’s out of Drabinsky’s editing and producing control.

“Down deep, I know that he probably trusts that I will make a balanced film, but on the surface I can promise you he’s not thrilled about it,” he adds.

With appearances by Broadway superstars Diahann Carroll and Chita Rivera, and former head of Universal Studios Sid Sheinberg, Avrich predicts Show Stopper, which is narrated by Albert Schultz, will appeal to the wider community of theatre and film professionals and patrons, beyond Canada to New York and Los Angeles.

“I want entertainment lovers to see it,” says Avrich.

Show Stopper was produced, written and directed by Avrich. The film is a Melbar Entertainment Group production in association with Astral’s The Movie Network and eOne, with funding from Rogers Telefund, CAVCO and the OMDC.

eOne is distributing the film in Canada, and Melbar Entertainment Group is handling sales in the U.S. and international territories.

Show Stopper:The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky will premiere at The Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11 at 6:45 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and will premiere on The Movie Network in Canada in October.

Here is a clip, exclusive to Playback, from Show Stopper: