If a new musical was a hit in places like Vienna, but can’t get the funding to start on Broadway, is it fair to assume it’s the fault of the producers or the publicist? Or is it just another case of bad luck in a notoriously difficult industry?
Producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza poured millions into getting their new musical, “Rebecca,” on the Broadway stage, but it looks now as if that will never happen.
The ill-fated musical, based on the gothic novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, first started experiencing problems when the producers put their faith in Mark C. Hutton, a stockbroker who promised Sprecher and Forlenza he would deliver investors. After Hutton claimed to have investors who would put $4.5 million into the project, the producers moved forward with their planning of the show without ever meeting any of the investors Hutton said he had lined up. Hutton then sent them a message saying one of the investors had died and all the money had been lost. It later came to light that none of the investors had ever actually existed and Hutton was arrested for committing fraud.
After that disaster, Larry Runsdorf, a pharmaceutical executive from Florida, agreed to put $2.25 million into the musical on the condition that he remain anonymous as an investor. But it was clear that Runsdorf’s anonymity had not been protected when he began receiving anonymous emails claiming the musical was suffering from money shortages, low ticket sales, bad publicity, and potential fraud. Runsdorf responded by pulling his investment and the show has been unable to move forward ever since.
The producers sued their publicist, Marc Thibodeau, when they discovered he was the one sending the damaging emails to Runsdorf. Thibodeau is a veteran of the Broadway industry and had apparently been disappointed with the way the producers were handling their struggling show. Sprecher and Forlenza sued him for defamation, breach of contract, and tortious interference. They were seeking $10.6 million in damages, but the jury only awarded them $90,000.
After two days of deliberation, the New York State Supreme Court jury awarded the producers $5,000 for the breach of contract and $85,000 for the allegations of tortious interference, but they did not provide any award for the alleged defamation, as they found Thibodeau to be not guilty of that particular offense.
Thibodeau and his attorneys claimed the publicist was a whistleblower who was getting the truth out about a bad investment, and they deny he did anything wrong by using false names to send warning emails to Runsdorf. Despite the significant award he will be made to pay, Thibodeau said he was relieved by the jury’s verdict. He and his attorney said their decision to find him not guilty of defamation was a victory for the First Amendment.
An attorney for Sprecher and Forlenza said they were glad Thibodeau would be made to pay damages for his part in undermining the doomed show, but he also said in a statement that Sprecher and Forlenza were considering appealing the decision that Thibodeau was innocent of defaming his producers.
Super Lawyers named Illinois business trial attorneysPeter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Illinois business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, copyright, non-compete agreement, trademark, and libel suits, consumer rights and many different types of business and commercial litigation disputes including lawsuits between businesses or between shareholders and owners of the same business. Our Naperville, Evanston and Aurora business dispute lawyers handle emergency business law suits involving copyrights, trademarks, injunctions, and TROS, covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud. You can contact us by calling (630) 333-0333 or our toll-free number (833) 306-4933. You can also contact us online here.