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A Broadway Mystery Worthy Of 'Rebecca'

Sep 25, 2012
Originally published on September 25, 2012 7:39 pm

There's a new mystery on Broadway — one about the musical Rebecca, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel.

You can't see it yet on the New York stage. In fact, it hasn't even started rehearsals. That's because the production is short $4.5 million after one of its investors died before he could hand over the money.

But as Patrick Healy reports in The New York Times, some are now wondering if this investor ever existed. Healy spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about whether this show really will go on.


Interview Highlights

On the producer trying to bring 'Rebecca' to Broadway

"His name is Ben Sprecher, and he was an off-Broadway theater landlord and producer during the '80s and '90s. And he's one of a type of theater producers who are now trying to make the jump into the big leagues of Broadway. And the big leagues of Broadway [is] producing big-budget musicals like Wicked and The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera."

On the recent suspicion that investor Paul Abrams might not exist

"Paul Abrams sort of swept into the show as its savior last spring, saying that he could put up $2 million of his own money and raise another $2.5 million. But it turned out that Sprecher, who's counting on Abrams, never actually met Abrams or talked to him by phone, and only learned in August, when he really needed this money to start rehearsals, that Abrams had died, fairly mysteriously, of malaria in Britain.

"Sprecher flew over to Britain, apparently, to try to get the money from the estate of Paul Abrams, but he couldn't even meet with an estate representative, and we have not been able to find an obituary or death record for this man, any record of his company existing — really [any] other details of someone who you'd think would have some sort of public record if they were able to write a $2 million check for a Broadway show."

On who would have an interest in making up an investor

"Well, a few people — and, you know, I'm not trying to point the finger at anyone because we just don't know — but some have theorized that this Paul Abrams figure may have been created out of whole cloth to try to attract other investors into the show. There is no evidence of that; Ben Sprecher says that is not true; but, on the other hand, he's not been able to confirm the identity of this man Paul Abrams.

"It may also be a hoax, you know, that may have been someone out there who either wanted to invest and had sort of a dummy name or dummy corporate identity, or someone who was trying to pull a fast one on Broadway. We're still digging around for it."

On the status of the production

"They have a cast, they have a theater, and Ben Sprecher says that he is actively trying to raise money for the show, that he has financial commitments to replace the $4.5 million. There's no performance start date yet; all of that has been delayed. Mr. Sprecher has said he's not going to be announcing start of rehearsals or start of performances until the money's in the bank."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now to a Broadway mystery about the musical "Rebecca," based on the Daphne du Maurier novel. You can't see it yet on the New York stage. In fact, it hasn't even started rehearsals. The production is short $4.5 million after one of its investors died before he could hand over the money. But as Patrick Healy reports in today's New York Times, some are now wondering if this investor ever existed. Patrick Healy joins me now to try and fit the pieces of this mystery together. Patrick, welcome to the program.

PATRICK HEALY, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: And tell us first about the producer who's trying to make this show, "Rebecca," happen on Broadway. Who is he?

HEALY: Sure, his name is Ben Sprecher, and he was an off-Broadway theater landlord and producer during the '80s and '90s. And he's one of a type of theater producers who are now trying to kind of make the jump into the big leagues of Broadway. And the big leagues of Broadway is really producing big-budget musicals like "Wicked" and "The Lion King" and "Phantom of the Opera."

BLOCK: Well, Ben Sprecher, the producer announced that he had a promise of $4.5 million dollars from a South African businessman named Paul Abrams. And now, there's the suspicion that Paul Abrams might not even exist at all. What's going on?

HEALY: That's right. Paul Abrams sort of swept into this show as its savior last spring, saying that he could put up $2 million dollars of his own money and raise another $2.5 million. But it turned out that Sprecher, who was counting on Abrams, never actually met Abrams or talked to him by phone, and only learned in August when he really needed this money to start rehearsals, that Abrams had died fairly mysteriously of malaria in Britain. Sprecher flew over to Britain apparently to try to get the money from the estate of Paul Abrams. But he couldn't even meet with an estate representative. And we have not been able to find an obituary or death record for this man, any record of his company existing - really other details of someone who you'd think would have some sort of public record if they were able to write a $2 million dollar check for a Broadway show.

BLOCK: And who would have an interest in making up, if indeed that is what happened, in making up a putative investor named Paul Abrams?

HEALY: Well, a few people and, you know, I'm not trying to point the finger at anyone, because we just don't know, but some have theorized that this Paul Abrams figure may have been created out of whole cloth to try to attract other investors into the show. There is no evidence of that. Ben Sprecher says that that is not true. But, on the other hand, she's not been able to confirm the identity of this man, Paul Abrams. It may also be a hoax, you know. There may have been someone out there who either wanted to invest and had sort of a dummy name or a dummy, you know, sort of corporate identity, or someone who was trying to pull a fast one on Broadway. We're still digging around for it.

BLOCK: Well, what's the status of the show? Of "Rebecca" itself. Does it have a cast, a theater, opening date? Anything like that?

HEALY: They have a cast. They have a theater and Ben Sprecher says that he is actively trying to raise the money for the show. That he has financial commitments to replace the $4.5 million. There's no performance date start yet, all of that has been delayed. Mr. Sprecher has said he's not going to be announcing start of rehearsals or start of performances until the money's in the bank.

BLOCK: You know, Patrick, it's been a long time since I've read "Rebecca," but I remember it as being a story with all kinds of twists and turns and mysteries and sort of a ghostly presence, seems a little bit fitting for the story that you're laying out about this production.

HEALY: I have to say that's true. But it's sort of a ghost story, you know. It's this man, Paul Abrams, now haunting the show in much the same way that Max de Winter's first wife, Rebecca, haunted the estate of Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's book, and in the Hitchcock movie. I find it sort of personally strange that the people who are still involved with "Rebecca" don't want to get to the bottom of who this person was. I think, understandably so, that they're sort of focused on trying to get the show on its feet. They want the show to go on.

BLOCK: Well, Patrick Healy, thanks for talking to us about it.

HEALY: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Patrick Healy is a theater reporter for the New York Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.