Bickering Splits Livent, N. York

Livent Inc. and the city officials who oversee the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in the North York suburb of Toronto are trying to resolve disputes that have shaken up Livent’s management of the theater complex.

Livent has a 40-year management contract with the complex, renewable in 10-year increments, chairman Garth Drabinsky told Variety. But in a letter last month from a Livent attorney to the law firm representing the board of the North York Performing Arts Centre Corp., Livent offered to negotiate the termination of the contract if city officials wanted to find a new manager, according to a report last week in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The offer came after the Ford board drew down C$500,000 ($363,000) of a C$1.25 million ($908,000) letter of credit Livent had provided as security, complaining that the company had failed to hold a fundraising event that would have generated that sum for the publicly subsidized facility.

Shop squabble

Livent, in turn, insisted that it was under no obligation to hold the event. The company also charged that the city was supposed to install a gift shop that would have raised merchandise sales by a comparable amount. Livent also has a multimillion-dollar suit pending against North York, charging that city officials sponsored protests against its Hal Prince-directed production of “Show Boat,” which went on to great acclaim and subsequently won the Tony Award for best revival.

North York officials did not return calls.

Drabinsky said the board’s move in drawing funds on the letter of credit was no surprise: “We knew they were going to draw on the letter of credit. That’s what letters of credit are for.”

Livent opened the 1,850-seat theater in October 1993 with “Show Boat.” Recently, Drabinsky’s co-production with Really Useful of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard,” starring Diahann Carroll as Norma Desmond, took up residence there. Livent books events for the entire $34.8 million, 3,100-seat facility, which also includes a recital hall and studio. Livent recently opened a new theater in Vancouver, and is planning to refurbish theaters in Chicago and New York as well.

“None of this is a big deal right now,” Drabinsky insisted. “We’ve been trying to resolve our outstanding differences through negotiation, and if we ultimately can’t agree, we’re going to arbitrate the issues. It will be resolved- period.”

But Drabinsky has no plans to yield control of the Ford Centre, declaring that termination of the contract was not a possible outcome of any arbitration.

Drabinsky suggested that Livent’s production of “Ragtime,” currently in development, is slated to move into the Ford Centre when “Sunset” hits the road. Drabinsky said he hasn’t determined when that would be, but he dismissed reports that “Sunset” is doing poorly at the box office and playing to less than full houses.

The production, he said, is grossing nearly $650,000 per week since opening. But the most recent week posted a gross of $584,565; at its peak, “Show Boat” was grossing $675,000.

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