The upstart theatre company Dancap, built to challenge for a slice of high-end musical theatre audiences in Toronto and New York, is pulling the plug on its operations, apparently felled by snowballing critical and financial disappointments that became unmanageable.
On Friday, founder Aubrey Dan revealed that his five-year-old company "will be stepping back and re-evaluating our involvement in the theatre business."
Dancap will complete its current season, including revivals of West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, and Million Dollar Quartet, a rock 'n' roll musical. And it will mount a scheduled Western Canada tour of Jersey Boys this fall.
But there will be no 2012-13 season, and Dancap has withdrawn as lead producer of a new Broadway-bound musical, Prince of Broadway, based on music from shows produced by legend Hal Prince.
Speculation has circulated that two recent productions, Shrek, the Musical, and In the Heights, may have lost a combined $3-million in only two months. Two new Dancap-backed Broadway shows – Ghost, the Musical, and Leap of Faith – opened to dreadful reviews. And some say Dancap lost $5-million on The Pirate Queen alone, a musical that bombed on Broadway in 2007.
"I think some of his [show]choices were baffling," Toronto producer Derrick Chua said, "but Aubrey's heart was in the right place."
Mr. Dan did not respond to several requests for comment on Sunday, and a spokesperson said he would not comment on the company's finances.
Finding additional investors for Prince of Broadway was proving impossible. In a memo last week, Mr. Dan said, "the current economic climate … coupled with the absence of a suitable theatre to ensure the anticipated fall opening, posed some very real challenges."
Entertainment producer Jeffrey Latimer admires what Mr. Dan did, but knows how quickly expensive shows can swoon into the red.
"If you don't come out of the gate with sales already in place ... you start to get behind the eight-ball and it can be very dangerous," Mr. Latimer said.
Two members of Dancap's development staff resigned in resent weeks, and, while other theatre companies were announcing plans for the 2012-13 season, Dancap was silent.
For Mr. Dan's chief rival, David Mirvish, Dancap's retreat means complete control of Toronto's theatre scene.
For Toronto theatre-goers, it may be a mixed blessing – a smaller menu of shows, but (because producers won't be competing for rights) perhaps more stable ticket prices.
And for Mr. Dan, the decision marks the painful end of the Dancap dream – at least for now.
Mr. Dan arrived in 2007 with $50-million to spend, and varying rumours peg his total losses as high as $40-million. Mr. Dan ceded 80 per cent of box-office revenues of the long-running Jersey Boys to its lead producers to secure Canadian production rights.
Dan Brambilla, CEO of Toronto's Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, said Dancap faced two insurmountable problems – a shortage of quality shows and the formidable competition posed by Mr. Mirvish's organization.
"With a 40,000-name subscriber base, the Mirvishes are obviously going to get the best shows," Mr. Brambilla said. "At the same time, there's a been real paucity of quality product."
But Dancap's decisive setback occurred in 2008, when Key Brand Entertainment sold both the Canon (now the Ed Mirvish Theatre) and the Panasonic theatres to the Mirvish organization, giving it control of all key downtown venues. Dancap was forced into less desirable rental locations.
Mr. Dan emerged from the sales division of Novopharm, the generic pharmaceutical company owned by his father, Leslie Dan. Novopharm was sold in 2000, and Mr. Dan invested in three Canadian Stage shows starting in 2004 – Urinetown, Ain't Misbehavin' and Hair.
He formed Dancap in 2007, vowing to be an alternative in the Mirvish-dominated landscape.
"It's a hard, hard business," concluded the Sony Centre's Mr. Brambilla. "I've seen a lot of people from other fields try to enter it and leave disillusioned."