When I think of new or original as regards a play production, and no mention gets made in its press about adaptation of or inspiration from other works, I expect to see unique characters interacting in non-derivative plots and scenes. I, like other regional theatre critics, found myself utterly enchanted by the workshop production of the new musical “On the Eve” at the Margo Jones Theatre space in late 2012, gave it a sterling review, here:
I attended opening night of the musical’s “professional world premiere” at Theatre Three January 20, 2014, and enjoyed its expanded version, in spite of muddy sound mixing and overall lack of dynamic choreography (not obvious in the smaller space’s workshop production). I clapped and tapped and cheered along with everyone else in the house to Home by Hovercraft’s rousing music and Seth Magill’s charming, sexy song delivery. I did come away wondering why some songs failed to integrate with the plot line well (not obvious during the workshop production); but the whole performance still felt exhilarating. Then came a disturbing query on facebook.
An acquaintance messaged me to ask if I noticed the plagiarism in “On the Eve”. Surprised, I messaged back, “If you mean the way the show seems to gain stylistic inspiration from “Pippin”, “Cabaret”, “Les Mis” , “Threepenny Opera” and “Marat Sade”, I wouldn’t call that plagiarism.” “No,” came the response. “I mean Dr. Who.”
I have never watched any Dr. Who episodes and know little about it, so I asked for clarification. My acquaintance named characters, scenes and plot lines, matching ones. I said I would look into it, not quite knowing where to start. I called a friend who watches Dr. Who faithfully, asked him to respond to what my acquaintance had shared. Here is some of the response. This friend said that from my description Chase Spacegrove, the time-traveling ladies’ man and space explorer in “On the Eve”, is pretty much a carbon copy of Captain Jack, the time-traveling ladies’ man and space explorer in Dr. Who. He added that Dr. Who has an affair in one episode with Madame de Pompadour at Versailles, just like the affair Chase Spacegrove has with Marie Antoinette in “On the Eve”. And talking statues? They exist in Dr. Who, too. Set in a post-apocalyptic, disintegrating world? Ditto. My friend confirmed other similarities, including a romantic sub-plot and travel by hot air balloon, making it clear that more than “stylistic inspiration” took place here. Without any credit?
I’m baffled. It seems obvious that “On the Eve”, as charming as it is, is hardly as new, fresh and original as we’ve been led to believe. I reviewed all the press materials I received opening night, to see if Dr. Who gets credit there for inspiring a generous portion of the musical. Maybe I missed it? Nothing wrong with adaptations. Nothing mentioned in the press. I can understand one coincidence. But a whole slew of them, including secondary sub-plots and hot air balloons? I don’t know if this is plagiarism. I think of that as stealing exact verbiage. I don’t know if that takes place in “On the Eve”, but I do feel humbugged. I don’t understand why credit wasn’t given where due. Wow.
“On the Eve” is an exhilarating show to experience, if an untidy hodge-podge at times. Theatre Three has extended it through February 16. Check their website for details and ticket information.
Direction and set design by Jeffrey Schmidt.