A series of financial and logistical missteps since rehearsals and shooting began in July has left the cast of "Senior Prom" in limbo, with at least one backing out of the show.
The date for a star-studded performance at the Naples Philharmonic that was to cap the filming of a local reality TV show has come and gone raising questions about the fate of the program.
With legendary actress and performer Debbie Reynolds promoted as the host, a live dance performance featuring eight Naples seniors was expected two Saturdays ago, the second date proposed for the performance.
It was to have been the final episode in a television show, Senior Prom, created by Brian Howie, that followed the seniors as they learned various routines under the guidance of Broadway stars.
But a series of financial and logistical missteps since rehearsals and shooting began in July has left the cast in limbo, with at least one backing out of the show, and a few crew members saying they have gone unpaid. But Howie has insisted no one was owed any money and that rehearsals would soon commence.
As the production of "Senior Prom" struggled in Naples, Howie was facing legal problems elsewhere. In late September, a New York woman was awarded $118,000 in a lawsuit against Howie over the promotion of her fitness venture. It was the latest in a string of lawsuits and legal issues that have dogged Howie's career since the early 1990s, including a stint in federal prison.
"Show business is a terrible, crappy business," Howie told the Daily News when asked about his history of legal problems earlier this year. "Not sure what that has to do with 'Senior Prom.' Of course lawsuits bother me but it's the nature of the beast. Everyone in it has lawsuits."
Trouble began in Naples a month after shooting of "Senior Prom" began in July. Crew members walked off the set claiming their paychecks were bouncing. Then an actor's union for the Broadway performers and Reynolds issued a "do not work" order because contracts and bonds were not fulfilled. Howie borrowed at least $15,000 from a cast member to float the production. Finally rehearsals ceased.
"This whole show is built around Debbie Reynolds," Howie previously told the Daily News. "If there was no Debbie Reynolds, there would be no show."
Now it appears Reynolds involvement in the production is in doubt.
The final performance at the Phil was rescheduled from Aug. 25 to Oct. 13 due to a conflict in Reynolds' schedule, Howie said. After reimbursing ticket holders, the Phil deferred all future announcements for the performance to Howie. A new date was never set on the Phil's official calendar.
Tickets for the new date were never sold. Reynolds was never made aware of a new date, her spokeswoman said. In a "sizzle reel" sent to the media last month to promote "Senior Prom," Reynolds isn't mentioned.
"She is busy doing other things right now," Margie Duncan said about Reynolds. "She just finished a movie. She's not thinking about anything other than what she has to do at this moment."
And on Oct. 11, Reynolds canceled all performances for the next three months after being hospitalized for a bad reaction to medication.
When asked about the second missed performance, Howie said that an unnamed "distributor asked for some changes in how and what we were shooting, and we obliged."
When filming stopped, so did Howie's communication with the cast. After nearly a month, Howie sent them an email three weeks ago apologizing, and requested they tell him their schedules so he could coordinate filming schedules. In the aftermath, one cast member quit.
"We want to forget it," said Priscilla Spensieri, whose husband, Dan, was a cast member. "It was a ... bad experience."
As trouble brewed in Naples, Howie was facing — and ultimately lost — a lawsuit involving his former business partner Colleen Walsh.
According to the lawsuit, Howie approached Walsh to promote her fitness and life-coaching business, Strong Mamas.
"It was innocent. I thought it would be fun," Walsh said. "He worked in TV, knew a lot of people, why would I not want to do this?"
Court records show Walsh claimed she covered all expenses and never reaped a financial benefit from her efforts or repayment as expected. Walsh claimed in the lawsuit that Howie charged thousands of dollars on her credit cards without her approval, including airline tickets for "Survivor" stars, Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca, and for defaulting on several personal loans — all dating back to 2008. A New York Supreme Court sided with Walsh awarding her $118,000 with the possibility of adding more on to the judgment.
Since Walsh filed her lawsuit in January 2012, she learned of other suits Howie has faced,
A 2005 suit stemming from Howie's Off-Broadway hit, "Pieces (of Ass)," alleged Anna Benson, a model and ex-wife of former New York Mets pitcher Kris Benson, invested in Howie's production. Benson said she paid $100,000 in March 2004 to secure a 5 percent interest in the show. Her lawsuit, which names Howie and his New Scenario II production company, alleges she received neither financial statements nor any return on her money. A New York judge awarded her $97,299.63 in February 2006, in addition to nearly $30,000 in court and attorney fees, an amount records show has grown to $136,101.
When reached by phone, Benson declined to comment.
Another investor, David Adamo, agreed to lend Howie $50,000 for start-up costs for "Pieces." But the next year he sued Howie, alleging the production had taken in more than $300,000 but none of the profits went to investors. The lawsuit was dropped in February 2005.
In 2006, Howie took "Pieces" to Las Vegas, where he partnered with Jocelyne Uy, an attorney who is licensed in Nevada and Michigan but no longer practices. Uy was sued when an investor didn't get a return on his $110,000, according to a letter Uy wrote to the Michigan Bar Association. Uy maintains that the show failed because Howie didn't bring in an investor as promised.
"As a result of my business partner's misrepresentations, the company opened underfunded and ultimately failed," Uy wrote, referring to Howie.
Howie's legal problems date back to 1993 when he was found guilty of issuing a bad check in Connecticut and served a year of probation.
Three years later, he pleaded guilty to credit card fraud, was ordered to pay $60,580 in restitution to Chase Manhattan Bank and serve four months in federal prison in Lexington, Ky.
"(Howie) shall advise his present and future employers of his conviction of credit card fraud," his plea agreement states.When asked by the Daily News about his time in prison, Howie twice denied going to prison, once saying "It was Brian E. Howie. That wasn't me." The next day, he called the Daily News to say he lied and he did go to prison.
Howie said he never had to tell anyone because he's self-employed.
"Never had a real boss," Howie said. "Never had an employer. Never had to tell anyone."
Howie said he's made "a lot of mistakes" in his career. But added his legal woes are not indicative of future success.
"I don't think I need to be less proud of this show," Howie said, "because I am less proud of something I did 18 years ago."
Will the show go on?
When asked, Howie deferred all comments about the status of Senior Prom to his publicist, Alison Drake.
"(We) have no new news until we are updated from Brian," Drake said. "We will let you know anything as soon as we have information."