In the spring of 2003, Hollywood promoter Jack Stein, then a resident of Petaluma for just over two years, gave a lengthy interview to the Argus-Courier’s Chris Samson (see excerpt in sidebar). The profile was full of Stein’s autobiographical descriptions of his show business successes, with room for his own plans for the future, which included producing lavish musicals in the area.
At the time, no one could know that in just over a year, Stein would become notorious, charged with embezzlement of funds intended to pay for a production of “West Side Story,” itself a benefit for the renovation of the then-recently-created Polly Klaas Performing Arts Center, which Klein was then executive director of. The planned facility would be housed in the iconic red building at the corner of English and Western, and would be run by Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater.
The production of “West Side Story” — to be directed by Gene Abravaya, and scheduled to open in May 2004 at the Evert Person Theater, on the SSU Campus — was abruptly shut down just days before opening, when it was discovered that nearly $30,000 was missing from the non-profit’s coffers. That money was to pay for rent, artist fees, licensing rights, and more. With the money gone, the organization had no choice but to shutter the show.
Not long after, Stein was arrested and charged with embezzlement, though at the time he insisted he’d only taken $6,300, and always intended to pay it back. In July of 2006, he was sentenced to eight months in jail, four months of which he ended up serving. He also agreed to pay back $24,000. The Board of the Polly Klaas Performing Arts Center — which, as a result of the embezzlement, never did see the building open to the public — claimed at the time, according to newspaper reports, that its total losses due to the crisis were in the neighborhood of $80,000.
And that particular production of “West Side Story” never did open.
“I remember being extremely disappointed and outraged by what he had done,” says Abravaya, who went on to become artistic director of Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park, and now lives in Oro Valley, Arizona. “It’s funny,” he reflects. “In my life I’ve seen assassinations, and I’ve seen space shuttles explode on live TV. We’ve seen the Trade Center destroyed before our eyes. All of those things affected us. But nothing affects us as much as something that happens directly to us.”
Abravaya adds that after 15 years, the disappointment still sometimes returns.
“I’d always wanted to be a part of that show, ‘West Side Story,’ and was so excited to be directing it,” he allows. “To experience it being shut down so close to our opening, after all the work we’d done on it, was horrible. What Jack Stein did really was eye-opening to me, and it changed me. I’d say I lost my innocence, a bit. I have been a little more wary and guarded and distrustful of people ever since.”
Now retired, Abravaya is at work on a play set at the beginning of the Civil War.
As for Stein, he long ago relocated to the Los Angeles area, where he continues to work in show business as a producer of his own projects. In 2012, he announced that he would be producing a musical by Richard and Robert Sherman (“Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book”). Titled “MerryGoRound,” the show has been talked up over the years as various artists became attached to it, with Stein telling Los Angles newspapers that the show would open on Broadway, with Florence Henderson (of “The Brady Bunch”) in the cast. Henderson died in December 2016.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
(Excerpt from profile by Chris Samson, appearing on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2003)
He has represented such artists as Diana Ross, Bill Cosby, and the Temptations, was a close friend of Dudley Moore, was married to Susan Anton, and was nominated for an Emmy for a prime time TV show he produced. Now living in Petaluma, he has written a book about turning 50, and plans to produce Broadway musicals in the area.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of representing professional entertainers?
“I don’t do much personal management anymore. I’m doing more concert and theater production. I produced a Sinbad concert last may at the Marin Civic Center, and a Bob Newhart concert in Indianapolis. I plan to do a couple of Broadway musical theater productions this summer in Sonoma County. I never had the desire to direct, but I love putting together an act, or a show, artistically. My real forte is production. I’m the person who puts all the pieces together. I love the responsibility … and the credit.”
“I have to learn to listen more.” Stein also plans to start his own theater company, and produce Broadway musicals in Sonoma County. His first planned production will be “West Side Story.”
Your personal philosophy?
“Believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself – really believe in yourself – you can do anything. There is always a way, you just have to keep looking for it. If you are talking to someone who says ‘No,’ you’re talking to the wrong person.”