The cast of the new Broadway musical “Paradise Square” was instructed by their union, Actors Equity, not to show up to rehearsal on Monday, multiple sources told The Post. And it wasn’t so producer Garth Drabinsky could give his 40-strong ensemble some Presidents’ Day relaxation.
“The cast members were freaked out,” an insider with ties to the musical said of the stop-work order, which was allegedly due to production payment issues. “A bunch of them started calling their agents asking what to do.”
(In a statement to the post, Drabinsky’s general manager Jeffrey Chrzczon, said: “Paradise Square is fully bonded, and cast salaries are paid current week and are up to date and no salaries have been missed throughout the nine years of its development, including the 12 weeks of the Chicago engagement. Many of the actors in Paradise Square have worked with Mr. Drabinsky on previous productions.”)
When the rattled company returned on Tuesday, just 21 days away from their first preview, a slew of actors conspicuously posted happy rehearsal photos to their Instagram accounts. That move, the insider suggested, might have been a coordinated distraction.
“Garth is working overtime to make sure this does not get to the media,” they said.
Sounds about right. Drabinsky is Broadway’s real-life Max Bialystock.
After producing “Ragtime” and “Show Boat” in the 1990s, Drabinsky was thrown behind bars in 2009 for keeping two sets of books for his Broadway production company Livent. In doing so, he misled investors into believing that money-losing flops were really big hits, bilking them out of some $500 million.
The Canadian crook was only allowed to cross the border into the United States again in 2019 after charges here were dismissed with prejudice because he served time in Canada. “Paradise” was set to be the jailbird’s big return after 20 years away, but the new musical at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is riddled with backstage drama and hemorrhaging money.
“With Garth,” a source said, “it’s always an ocean of red ink.”
The production’s spokesman, Jim Byk, played down issues with the production in a statement: “The cast of ‘Paradise Square’ is currently in rehearsal in a Midtown studio. Rehearsals have been going exceedingly well and have been running slightly ahead of schedule.
“There were some administrative issues that the cast wanted their union to address, and they used the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, February 21 to do so. They were back in rehearsal on Tuesday, February 22. We move to the Barrymore Theatre next week to begin the tech rehearsal process ahead of our March 15 first preview.”
But lighting and sound cues are the least of their concerns, several people told The Post. Sources said that there’s simply not enough money to keep “Paradise Square,” a kind of Civil War “Cheers” about an NYC tavern in the 1800s where blacks and the Irish peacefully coexisted, afloat for very long, and bills have been piling up for months. The show is believed to have minuscule advance ticket sales and endured heavy losses — into the millions — during a Chicago tryout.
“There was this thinking that they would walk away with a ton of money from the Chicago engagement, and that didn’t happen,” an industry source said. “People were very worried about getting their pay.”
They added that ticket-buyers there were cooler to the show than Lake Michigan in December, due to the mixed reviews and confusing marketing materials. “When you look at the artwork, you go, ‘Is this a show about a lamp?’”
A Broadway vet observed that the musical is under-capitalized at $11.5 million, calling the number “shockingly low” for its size and noting it’s really an $18-20 million musical.
That apparent lack of cash is why you’re not seeing much marketing for “Paradise Square,” the insider said, even though Drabinsky loves nothing more than a double-truck ad on a Sunday.
Another issue: The show just isn’t very good.
I saw it in the Windy City from a balcony that had enough empty seats for a small suburb. It was a heady jumble.
The storytelling troubles have surely been exacerbated by a behind-the-scenes storm of artistic problems. Drabinsky, a quick-tempered bully, is playing an outsize role in the rehearsal room, a source said. During rehearsals in Chicago, the producer would watch, often maskless, and occasionally make offensive, tone-deaf remarks. The source added the experience has been “a nightmare” for the company.
(Chrzczon disputed this recollection saying Drabinsky always wore a mask during rehearsal and complied with COVID-safety measures. “At the height of the pandemic,” he noted, “the ‘Paradise Square’ company had no cases of COVID over 12 weeks in rehearsal and performances in Chicago.”)
The actors, the insider said, feel that “[Director] Moises Kaufman (“The Laramie Project,” “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”) is not strong, really doesn’t have a sense of controlling the cast and Garth. Garth has a seat at the table, and the cast really doesn’t respect [Moises] in a major way.”
Still, it’s Drabinsky and his team who have made “Paradise” a living hell.
“I don’t believe here’s anything criminal happening,” the industry source said. But “[Garth] has an ego so large it won’t fit into New York Harbor. “