Drabinsky keeps creative juices flowing

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TORONTO -- Garth Drabinsky, a Broadway impressario before the 1990s downfall of live-theater producer Livent Inc., is mighty pleased with his latest creation: a TV talent search series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“Triple Sensation” featured 12 finalists singing, acting and dancing through elimination rounds until 17-year-old John-Michael Scapin was chosen Sunday night by marquee judges, including Drabinsky, to receive a fast-track career in musical theater.

“There’s not a false note of instantaneous anything. It’s watching talent at its genesis, at its least cynical,” Drabinsky says of the TV show he also executive produces.

He’s kept himself busy as an impresario ahead of his upcoming trial over his role in the dramatic 1990s collapse of Livent.

Besides “Triple Sensation,” Drabinsky has helped market the Toronto Argonauts professional football team with glitzy halftime shows, organized “cultural weekends” at a luxury hotel in rural Ontario and helped develop an amusement park next to the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles.

Drabinsky also produced a feature film based on the Gospel of John and a Toronto stage production of “The Island” by South African playwright Athol Fugard.

Of course, that’s all a far cry from producing Broadway hits like “Ragtime” and “Showboat” before a lengthy police investigation that led to Drabinsky’s arrest in 2002 for allegedly cooking the books at Livent before L.A. superagent Michael Ovitz purchased a controlling stake in the company in 1998.

Drabinsky will next help William Morris shop the international format rights to “Triple Sensation,” which Drabinsky insists is no “exercise in karaoke” like “American Idol.”

He describes the CBC reality TV series as a search for the next Gene Kelly, Nicole Kidman or Catherine Zeta-Jones -- a performer who excels as an actor, singer and dancer.

“We’ve all lived with them and needed them to succeed. My career is nothing without talent,” Drabinsky says.

“Triple Sensation” was spawned by a treatment for a TV drama about young people in a performing arts academy that Drabinsky penned after he was forced out of Livent in 1998. Drabinsky says the treatment languished until the CBC decided to redevelop his project as a reality TV series about the performing arts.

“Triple Sensation,” he says, shows young Canadian performers the real workings of the theater, where there’s lots of hard work and little overnight success.

Canadians have lapped up the CBC reality TV series. But whether Drabinsky can compete with his prosecutors’ take on how mega-musicals get made when he stands trial shortly on fraud charges remains to be seen. Testimony at his trial is expected to dwell less on sweat-soaked costumes and Broadway footlights and more on stormy board and banker meetings and generous back-end deals to help conceal huge investor losses.

Ever the optimist, Drabinsky insists he’s looking forward to the trial, where all, he assures, will “be resolved.”
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