Shuffle signals new direction for company

NEW YORK — With the company still reeling from revelations of bookkeeping irregularities under the prior regime, Livent Inc. named respected Roundabout Theater exec Todd Haimes to the new position of artistic director.

The move announced Wednesday effectively quashes any chances of a return to the company by Garth Drabinsky, who was suspended from his position as creative director last month.

Haimes’ appointment marks a definite turning of the corner for Livent, producers on Broadway said.

Haimes is seen as a new kind of artistic director. His 51 Tony nominations garnered at the Roundabout are matched with an MBA and a strong financial background.

Roundabout vet

Haimes has served as artistic director of Gotham’s Roundabout Theater since 1990. He also brought Roundabout Theater Co. out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, having served as its managing director since 1983.

Perhaps most important for Livent, Haimes’ reputation is spotless among Broadway producers.

That’s an impression different from that of the man who built — and then allegedly nearly destroyed — Livent, Garth Drabinsky.

Livent suspended Drabinsky — its vice chairman and chief creative director — last month upon discovering accounting irregularities that had inflated the company’s profits “by millions of dollars” since 1996.

Livent CEO and chairman Roy Furman said he was “shocked” at the news then, but has said little more since.

‘A total package’

In an interview with Daily Variety on Wednesday, Furman said Haimes, 42, was chosen because he is “a total package. His nonprofit background was a piece of that. Clearly the nonprofits produce a large amount of diverse product on an annual basis, dealing with a great number of people. He’s respectful of the bottom line, and has built and maintained an organization. He recognizes and respects talent, and he’s very creative. It’s an uncommon package.”

Broadway producers said his financial background was a plus, but some also questioned whether a non-commercial producer could make the transition quickly to big-budget commercial theater.

“My jaw drops, but I can see the rationale,” said one Broadway producer who declined to be identified. “But it’s not so easy, and we’ll see if he can do it. It’s not a good fit necessarily, because the companies are so different.”

Other views

Others producers were more positive.

“He was able to turn the Roundabout from a bankrupt theater doing tired plays on 17th Street to one of the premier theater companies in the U.S. Who better to try to do the same with Livent?” said Roy Gabay, a producer of last season’s revival of “A View From the Bridge.”

But put another way, Haimes’ reputation is clean while Drabinsky’s has been sullied, and Broadway producers said this, too, is as important as artistic excellence or financial dexterity.

“I think Todd is one of the most respected and one of the most ethical people in the business. That’s what they’re looking for: He says something and you believe him. Whether you agree with him or not, you trust him,” said Gabay.

General consensus

Consequently, most producers speculated that the unaccounted Livent cash almost certainly means the end of Drabinsky at Livent. The view on Broadway was that despite a company spokesman’s protestations that such a conclusion was “premature, and is pending the outcome of the financial investigation,” Drabinsky is surely out for good.

Company insiders said former CAA agent Michael Ovitz, who has taken a controlling 12% stake in Livent, was “very involved in the recruiting and hiring” and “very interested in Todd and played an active role.”

Haimes will be leaving the Roundabout at the end of the next season, staying on to supervise the theater’s transition from its Criterion Center to the soon-to-be restored Selwyn Theater on 42nd Street.

Ellis steps in

Scott Ellis, longtime Broadway director whose credits include last season’s Tony-nominated “1776,” has agreed to step in as associate artistic director, but on a non-exclusive basis. Ellis, in a statement released by the Roundabout, said he was glad to “help out the Roundabout in an expanded capacity while continuing to work on and develop outside projects.”

Separately, Livent also announced that Marty Bell has been promoted to senior producer from associate producer. He’ll have primary responsibility for “Ragtime,” “Fosse” and the upcoming “Parade.”

(Martin Peers contributed to this story.)

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