Garth Howard Drabinsky | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Garth Howard Drabinsky

Garth Howard Drabinsky, lawyer, entrepreneur (b at Toronto 27 Oct 1948).

Garth Howard Drabinsky, lawyer, entrepreneur (b at Toronto 27 Oct 1948). Although his Cineplex Odeon Corp (established 1979) was almost bankrupt by 1983, Drabinsky was by 1987 one of the world's most powerful film exhibitors, controlling over 1500 screens in nearly 500 locations across North America. His tactics have been brash, blunt and innovative.

At Cineplex, he won the crucial right to bid for first-run American productions for his theatres by exposing exclusive arrangements between the major established exhibitors - Famous Players and Odeon - and the studios, provoking government regulation to break an effective monopoly. His strategy of renovating old movie houses, as well as building stylish new ones to accommodate his multiscreen theatres, has been credited with drawing people back to the movies.

Producer as well as exhibitor, Drabinsky financed 6 Canadian feature films from 1977 to 1982, which won more than a dozen major awards and nominations, and he backed Paul Newman's film of The Glass Menagerie (1987).

Drabinsky allied Cineplex with American communications giant MCA, but by 1989 he was ousted from the company. He managed to secure the live entertainment division of the company and the Canadian rights to Phantom of the Opera as part of his buy-out settlement. Livent Co, as the new company came to be called, offered Drabinsky the opportunity to establish himself in another entertainment medium. Phantom became a huge box office success. Drabinsky moved quickly to develop other stage properties to run at theatres in Toronto and then across Canada, and ultimately to New York. Kiss of the Spider Woman played to sold-out audiences in Toronto for a year before moving to Broadway in 1992 and reaping 7 Tony awards. A major revival of Showboat opened in Toronto and New York (1993-94) to critical acclaim, followed by Ragtime, the first show developed entirely in-house by Livent, and which went on from its Toronto run to success in the New York market.

Drabinsky's flair for dramatic presentation helped Toronto develop a reputation as the leading pre-Broadway venue for major stage productions. He radically redefined the way musicals were developed and marketed, initiating a system of vertical integration at Livent whereby shows were developed, written, produced and marketed under the company umbrella and then produced in company-owned theatres. His success was such that when Livent issued a public offering of shares in 1983, the company quickly raised some $50 million and the shares repaid handsome dividends. However, in 1998 questionable accounting practices eventually led to Drabinsky's removal as CEO. A series of suits and countersuits followed, obscuring Livent's continued success on the stage with its new revue, Fosse (1999). Despite his ongoing legal difficulties Drabinsky successfully produced Athol Fugard's The Island in Toronto in 2000, a production which reunited the original South African cast.

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