Director had front row seat for both Drabinsky’s highs and lows
October 3, 2012 | Barbara Shainbaum - Film Critic
TORONTO - Toronto filmmaker Barry Avrich was inspired to make Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky, because he had “a front row seat for many adventures with Canadian entertainment moguls. I was not a fly on the wall. It’s not only a story that has all of the drama, triumph and tragedy of a Hollywood movie, it’s a story that played out in our own backyard. My goal was to create a very entertaining and evocative portrayal of this complex mogul,” he said, after the recent Toronto International Film Festival premiere of the film.
Avrich has produced a compulsively watchable and hard-hitting documentary charting Drabinsky’s dazzling career from ambitious striver to empire builder and financial criminal crashing with fraud convictions. He gives insight into both the positive and negative character traits of a man driven to succeed at any cost.
Show Stopper, narrated by actor Albert Schultz, presents the dramatic evidence of Drabinsky’s life – his artistic accomplishments and financial crimes – as a debate of sorts to uncover what really drove Drabinsky. Was it his obsessive love and desire of attaining and producing art at any price that fueled his quest for recognition, power and status or was it all really motivated by financial greed? The audience can decide.
Show Stopper contains a balance of voices: the artists who love Drabinsky, like Diahann Carroll, Chita Rivera, and Elaine Stritch and would work with him again; and the industry and investor opponents, like MCA’s Lew Wasserman, his protege Sid Sheinberg, former Universal TV boss Frank Price, and New York reporter Michael Reidel.
Then there is Drabinsky’s own voice. He did not participate in the film.
“That would be impossible as the film was going to be balanced,” Avrich said, explaining that he had enough archival footage on the mogul.
“Drabinsky gave artists the breath in which to express art on a large canvas and he infuriated investors who were naïve enough to think that show business is a sure thing,” Avrich said.
He decided to make Show Stopper the day Drabinsky was fired from Livent 13 years ago.
“I was editing commercials for his latest production of Fosse when he got the news and Garth shared his most vulnerable thoughts with me as his world collapsed.”
Avrich met Drabinsky in 1987 when he was premiering Wall Street at his new Pantages Theatre. He began working for him as a commercial producer in 1990.
“We produced hundreds of spots together that allowed me a front row seat for both his highs and lows. It was beyond exciting and yet when it crashed, the pain was personal and deep,” Avrich related. “I was with him late in the day after being fired from Livent and he was shattered and shell shocked. He was extraordinarily vulnerable and I had not seen that side of him.”
Drabinsky’s story is “almost Shakespearean,” Avrich thinks.
It’s fascinating and complicated, almost larger than life because of his childhood polio, his grand dream of success at any cost, and his dramatic rise and fall.
“I do think like most Barnums and moguls, theirs is a deadly combination of genius and madness.” And Avrich is fascinated with entertainment moguls. “I love the zero-to-hero trajectory of these risk takers and the cinematic lives they lead.”
Avrich said that he and Drabinsky are friends.
“Should that change after the film it will be disappointing, but that’s showbiz.”
Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky, will be premiering on The Movie Network on Thurs., Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. ET.