A New York District Court judge has denied a motion to dismiss a plagiarism suit against the incoming Broadway musical Anastasia.
The new stage musical adaptation of the 1997 animated film of the same title, is being sued by Jean-Etienne de Becdelievre, an heir of playwright Marcelle Maurette, who also wrote a play based on the life of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Maurette’s Anastasia opened on Broadway in 1954.
According an earlier report in The New York Post, the lawsuit claims that the musical’s plot borrows heavily from Maurette’s play. The 1997 animated film has been expanded by Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally to incorporate historic and political context of the era. This version had its world premiere in spring 2016 at Hartford Stage. The musical is scheduled to begin Broadway previews March 23 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Maurette’s heirs are seeking an injunction to bar the show from opening until a licensing agreement can be reached. Stage Entertainment, which produces along with Tom Kirdahy and Bill Taylor, previously stated that there was no merit to the lawsuit and that the musical is based on the story of Anastasia Romanov’s life.
In denying the motion, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein explained that the “motion asks me to dismiss a claim for copyright infringement by comparing the copyrighted work to facts that are alleged to be historical, to another play based on the same facts, and to a current work that is said to be infringed. Defendants’ motion...asks me to make this comparison before Answers are filed, and without guidance by experts. I am unable to make such a complicated comparison. In order to do so, I would need to take judicial notice of facts said to be historical—an inappropriate exercise. I would also have to analyze similarities and differences among different literary expressions.”
The Broadway producers responded to Hellerstein”s ruling, saying, “We remain confident with our position. As is clear from the brief that we filed, the works simply are not similar and the plaintiff’s case is wholly without merit. We look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
The show’s producers had previously issued a statement in response to the original filing of the lawsuit, saying, “The Plaintiff’s case is wholly without merit. While the works may start with the basic idea of the historical story of the real-life Anastasia Romanov, copyright law does not protect ideas or historical facts. Moreover, the works involved are not similar: the Broadway production has a different plot, different characters, and different settings, not to mention the numerous songs that appear in the Broadway musical that do not appear in Plaintiff’s straight play. We are particularly disappointed about the filing as the production went out of its way to explain these myriad differences to Mr. Becdelievre to resolve the issue. We look forward to responding to the claims in court.”
The musical, which features a score by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is one of the most anticipated productions of the Broadway season.