The mystery of the Broadway musical and the missing British donor

Saga of trying to stage Rebecca in US has more twists than Du Maurier's gothic novel

It promised the most lavish new musical to be staged on Broadway in decades, with a brilliant musical score and fiery conclusion to create a "stunning and unforgettable theatrical experience".

Yet now New York theatregoers are unlikely ever to see the musical adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca after an extraordinary drama behind the scenes prompted the production to collapse this week.

The musical, one of the most expensive productions in recent Broadway history, was due to begin preview later this month. Yet, despite selling $1m (£619,000) of advance tickets, the producers announced they have had to postpone the show indefinitely.

Adapted from the gothic mystery novel published in 1938, Rebecca had been a hit around Europe. Earlier in the year, however, producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza were forced to delay its initial April opening because of money problems. The complication led to the departure of its two stars.

The show looked back on track later this year after Mr Sprecher, an off-Broadway theatre owner, secured funding pledges, including the input of Paul Abrams, a millionaire living in Britain, due to provide $4.5m of the $12m budget. Rehearsals were due to get underway earlier this month.

But the production was thrown into chaos again when it was revealed Mr Abrams unexpectedly died in August, with his associates saying he had succumbed to malaria. Attempts to secure the money from his estate failed.

The producers have spent the past three weeks seeking to make up the $4.5m shortfall and believed they had succeeded in securing a new investor, until last Friday when the whole thing was torpedoed by an email: Mr Sprecher and Ms Forlenza learnt that an "extremely malicious email, filled with lies and innuendo" had been sent to the new investor anonymously.

The producers said the unknown party had gone to huge lengths to uncover confidential information, including details of the private transaction, the identity of the new investor, who had wished to remain anonymous, and his lawyers. The email is believed to have warned against investing in the show and said Mr Abrams had been invented.

Mr Sprecher was interviewed by criminal investigators on Monday, his lawyer told the New York Times. He said his client's computer may have been hacked.

The authorities are looking at whether the mysterious Mr Abrams existed at all. The producers had only ever spoken to him on the telephone, and no record of him living in London can be found. So far no one has been reported dead from Malaria in August.

Mr Sprecher remained defiant. "We will not stop our efforts to mount this show and alternatives are already unfolding," he said. In the meantime, the threat of lawsuits from investors and talent looms large.

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