SHOW STOPPER: THE THEATRICAL LIFE OF GARTH DRABINSKY written and directed by Barry Avrich. An eOne release. 99 minutes. Opens Friday (September 21) at the Varsity. For venues and times see Movies.
Elaine Stritch, one of the few people alive who could be called a Broadway legend, can't wait for Garth Drabinsky to get out of jail.
"I don't feel he should be finished in my life because he got caught," she says about the film mogul and theatre producer who's currently serving time in prison for fraud and forgery. She worked with him on his successful remount of Showboat.
And what about the poor saps he defrauded?
"I don't know anything about that," snaps the star of Company, Mame and Call Me Madam, not to mention a scene-stealing recurring role on 30 Rock.
"He didn't defraud me. He's a brilliant producer. And I cry for that in the theatre. There aren't enough of them. He's the best producer since Ziegfeld. He has a way of making you perform better. I can't put my finger on it and tell you what it is - but it's talent. And we all know how difficult that is to handle."
Stritch is one of several stars - along with Chita Rivera and Diahann Carroll - interviewed in Barry Avrich's documentary on Drabinsky's rise and fall.
In a separate interview, Avrich, who's made documentaries about entertainment moguls Harvey Weinstein and Lew Wasserman, says he purposefully wanted to balance Drabinsky's critics with the artists who unconditionally loved him.
"He gave [the artists] a canvas and everything they wanted," says Avrich. "He was a great collaborator. They appreciated not only the money but the fact that he understood their situations. He was great in dealing with their egos and their artistic expression."
The idea of telling Drabinsky's story first occurred to him when he was working on the Wasserman doc. After all, at one time industry insiders considered Drabinsky the son Wasserman never had. Their high-profile split over the Cineplex movie chain Drabinsky helped found - chronicled nicely in Show Stopper - made entertainment headlines.
"So I knew even then it would be a great story, even before Garth had run into his issues at Livent."
There are a couple of curious omissions in the film. For instance, there's no interview with the film's subject, although Avrich says he's visited him in prison.
"I never asked him to participate and I never asked him for an interview," he admits. "I didn't think it was necessary. There was so much great archival footage, and I didn't think I'd necessarily get the interview I needed. It wasn't like I'd go in and get an interview where he would be reflective. It would be about the fight ahead.
"Also, Garth was and is an impresario, so had he agreed to an interview there would certainly have been 14 pages of conditions."
Both Stritch and Avrich believe Drabinsky's going to bounce back after doing time.
"When you're filled with ideas like him, you keep producing," says Avrich. "This is a man who in the 10 years he was waiting to go to trial produced a play, a TV series, two films and a theatrical concert series."
Stritch, who's in her 80s but isn't ready to retire yet ("What would I do with this energy?" she cackles), predicts Drabinsky will emerge from jail smelling like a rose.
"And I'd love to work with him again."