Theater: Warmed Over and Not So Hot

Broadway musicals freely filch, so why not from the best?

Bertolt Brecht, who plucked plots from Shakespeare, Moliere and Farquhar, reportedly said the best writers never borrow; they always steal. Brecht's error was limiting his dictum to the best writers. The rest are equally ready to find inspiration where someone else found it before. This is especially true of writers of musicals: attempts at original stories have become all but unheard of. With six weeks left, the '80s have yet to yield a noteworthy American musical not derived from another source, whether fiction (Big River), folklore (Into the Woods), movies ("Nine") or a painting (Sunday in the Park with George).

This...

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