Broadway Producer Garth Drabinsky Sues Actors’ Equity For $50M, Claiming Defamation & “Blacklisting” Following ‘Paradise Square’ Collapse; Union “Vigorously” Disagrees

Three months after his hoped-for Broadway comeback Paradise Square closed amidst bad box office, legal battles, a Covid outbreak and allegations of a toxic work environment, producer Garth Drabinsky is suing Actors’ Equity for $50 million, accusing the union of waging “an intentional campaign of harassment and abuse” when it placed the Canada-based Drabinsky on its Do Not Work list last summer.

Equity says it will fight the claim. “The lawsuit filed against Equity is entirely without merit, and Equity is confident it will prevail in this lawsuit,” an Equity spokesman said in a statement. “Equity will vigorously contest the suit and demonstrate that our actions were fully consistent with our legal responsibilities to protect our members.”

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The 57-page complaint was filed today in the Southern District of New York. Read it here.

Last July, Equity announced that Drabinsky had “made it clear that he is unable to uphold the terms of a union contract,” and would add him to its Do Not Work list immediately after Paradise Square closed on July 17. The union, along with United Scenic Artists, also sued Drabinsky for a combined sum in excess of $300,000 in unpaid wages and benefit contributions.

In his lawsuit today, Drabinsky, represented by the Roth Law Firm, PLLC, accuses Equity of, among many other things, making “untruthful statements” about the producer and placing him on a “blacklist.” Drabinsky also states that as a “lead creative producer” of Paradise Square, he was not in charge of finances and was “never the employer of any member of Actors Equity nor a party to any contract with them.”

Drabinsky, a controversial Broadway presence whose successes as head of Toronto-based Livent in the 1990s with Ragtime, Show Boat and Kiss of the Spider Woman were followed with a 2009 fraud and forgery conviction and 17-month imprisonment in Canada, claims that his placement on Equity’s Do Not Work list prompted an avalanche of negative press, cast disgruntlement and financial disaster.

“The negative and false branding of Drabinsky by Actors Equity provided members of the Cast with an escape hatch to illegally avoid their contractual obligations” to the production, the lawsuit states. Drabinsky also alleges that Equity did not take action when a cast member was accused of sexual harassment during a pre-Broadway staging, nor intercede when a Broadway cast member refused to work following a dispute over hair and wig issues.

Despite a Tony-winning performance by star Joaquina Kalukango – and a stop-the-show rendition of her big number “Let It Burn” on the June 12 Tony Awards broadcast – Paradise Square failed to catch on with audiences. The $15 million musical “experienced a significant surge in ticket sales” following the Tony broadcast, according to the suit, “but for only two days.”

The suit also puts the blame for a disastrous Covid outbreak on cast members and the creative team, among others, for pressuring Drabinsky and the production’s general manager to throw an opening night party. “Drabinsky, fearing a COVID outbreak amongst the Cast, was never in favor of a large gathering to celebrate the press opening night,” the suit says, adding that after “negative press and discontent, especially amongst the Cast” Drabinsky acquiesced to an opening night party attended by approximately 400 guests.

“Several days following opening night, 35 members of the Cast, crew and musicians tested positive for COVID,” the suit states. “The Musical was forced to shut down for thirteen consecutive performances beginning April 7, 2022, through April 17, 2022, resulting in a dramatic loss of revenues and marketing momentum.”

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