Canucks shift coin from films to B'way ventures

TORONTO — With Hollywood providing a lot of the creative juice for legit musicals these days, it only makes sense that the money men start thinking the same way.

That’s the logic behind two Toronto-based accountants with a long history in film financing who have organized a consortium of Canadian investors to put money into a slate of shows for the upcoming Broadway season.

Bernard Abrams and Michael Speyer are the forces behind Stage Ventures II, who plan to make their first foray onto the theatrical scene as part of the team bringing “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to Gotham. And, like all big investors, they’ll be taking a producer credit when the show comes to Broadway later this season after a tryout at San Diego’s Old Globe this fall.

The duo are accountants with 30 years of experience between them in the Canuck film and TV industry.

Abrams helped to finance more than 160 projects to the tune of C$6.5 billion ($5 billion), while Speyer was executive coordinator for the Ontario Film Development Corp. and head of syndication for Paragon Entertainment.

When Revenue Canada pulled the plug on tax shelters for film and TV in 2001, the team began searching around for new outlets for their investors.

They were brought in to raise money for a tuner that never made it past the tryout stage, but, as Abrams says, “It started us looking at theater from an economic perspective.”

“We quickly came to realize that the economics of doing just one play made no sense,” Speyer says. “We began talking to some of the movie studios that are currently developing shows for Broadway. They told us that if we were going to raise money for theater, we should look around to invest in an entire slate of shows.”

A meeting with MGM resulted in their getting together with Marty Bell and the rest of the producing team on “Scoundrels.” “We put our deal on the table,” Abrams recalls, “and their response was ‘We like what you’re saying; you’re in.”

The Stage Ventures II strategy, according to the duo, is “never to be the solo producer on a project, but to be a major force, putting up approximately 25% of the capitalization. People will be investing in a Canadian entity, which in turn will invest in a multitude of shows.” (More details are available at http://www.stageventures.ca).

Other shows on their list for the 2005 season include “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Spamalot,” “Brooklyn” and the revival of “La Cage aux Folles.”

Investors from Ontario are expected to enter at a level of no less than C$75,000 ($58,150). Abrams says, “The more money we raise, the more shows we’ll be able to back and the better everyone’s chances will be” of recouping their investment.

Speyer adds, “We’re creating annuities, because we’re in from the beginning. Our people will be part of the profit from all touring productions, subsidiary rights, everything.”

Abrams makes it clear: “Our goal is to make money. If you want to get investors next year, then you’d better be writing checks to them this year.”

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