From Page to Stage: Musicals Based on Books
Musicals are full of wonderful stories.
So it’s no surprise that some of the most beloved musicals are based on books!
For my stagey friends who are also looking forward to enjoying the summer sun with a great read, here’s a list of musicals inspired by books for you to enjoy:
Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S Elliott
T. S. Elliott’s book of poems inspired this musical! While the story is original, actual lyrics from the beloved poems are incorporated into the show’s score.
Cats tells the story of a tribe of cats, the Jellicles, gather for their yearly ball where they each tell their stories in hopes of being “the Jellicle choice” and ascending to Heavyside Layer before returning to a new life.
Based on Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Wicked is a musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name and is a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba, a social outcast due to her green skin, is paired to room with blonde society girl, Galinda. The two women go from disgruntled roommates to unlikely best friends. The story follows the two women as they reach adulthood while navigating Oz’s political climate; and eventually they grow into the iconic characters we recognize: The Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good.
The Phantom Of The Opera
Based on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Phantom is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of ballet chorus girl Christine Daae, who becomes an overnight opera sensation thanks to the help of a mysterious teacher. This ‘Angel of Music’ is actually the man known as ‘The Opera Ghost’, a damaged genius who lives in the catacombs beneath the opera house. As Christine enjoys great success and finds new love, the Phantom goes into a jealous rage, wreaking havoc on the entire company.
Based on Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo’s book of the same name, and covers a large part of French history. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, on his search for redemption after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He skips out on parole after being released from prison, determined to start over and lead a good life. Along the way he meets and saves many people as he avoids recapture by Inspector Javert, a police officer committed to putting him back in jail.
The Colour Purple
Based on The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, The Colour Purple tells the story of Celie, a Black woman living in the American South during the early to mid-1900s. Over the course of her life, Celie faces oppression, abuse, and tragedy. Through it all, she builds a relationship with herself and with God, eventually finding happiness.
Anne Of Green Gables
Based on Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is a Canadian classic, and of course inspired the musical of the same name.
When Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, two ageing siblings living at Green Gables, agree to adopt a boy to help around the farm, they end up receiving a girl by mistake. Despite being the opposite of what they wanted, Anne quickly warms their hearts and the Cuthberts agree to let her stay at Green Gables. With her fiery temper and wild imagination, Anne finds herself on a number of adventures within Avonlea as she makes herself a home for the very first time.
Anne & Gilbert
Based on Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne and Gilbert tells the story of Anne Shirley all grown-up, combining the next two books in Montgomery’s beloved series. After turning down the opportunity to attend university to help take care of the Cuthbert house, Anne begins teaching at the local school in Avonlea. When her nemesis-turned-friend Gilbert Blythe also takes a year off before university, they begin to study together and set the rumour mill of their small town turning.
The Bridges of Madison County
Based on The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Bridges of Madison County is based on the book of the same name which features the epic love story of Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson. It’s a story about how two people from different worlds and circumstances find each other by chance and fall head over heels in love. Robert comes to photograph the covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa. He meets Francesca, a housewife, whose husband is out of town. For one magical week, the two forge a connection stronger than either of them have ever dreamed of.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Based on The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Drood is based on Charles Dickens’ last and unfinished novel. While the original story is intense and Dickensian, the musical is more lighthearted and told in the style of British pantomime. In short, Edwin Drood goes missing and is presumed dead, leaving a colourful cast of characters who all had motive and opportunity.
While we may never know what Dickens intended, the stage show allows the audience to vote on who the killer is, giving it a different ending nightly.
Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812
Based on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Great Comet of course, only tells a small portion of Tolstoy’s epic novel. The seventy-page segment tells the story of Natasha’s arrival in Moscow, her affair with the roguish Anatole, and how family friend, Pierre, tries to save her reputation while pondering the meaning of life.
Based on Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
Ragtime features the stories of three very different societal castes in New York at the turn of the century. The stories of an upper-class white family in New Rochelle, Black residents of Harlem, and Eastern European immigrants in the Lower East Side. Their stories intertwine in unexpected ways, and are woven together with appearances by historical figures.
Based on Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
Taking place inside the seedy Kit Kat Klub, Cabaret focuses on the romance between American author, Cliff Bradshaw and English nightclub singer Sally Bowles as the Nazis slowly begin their rise to power in Germany.
Based on Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda tells the story of a feisty young girl with telekinetic powers who loves to read but is stuck with selfish parents and a tyrannical principal, Miss Trunchbull. She quickly befriends Miss Honey, a kind teacher who sees her potential, and together they work to make the school a better place.
Once On This Island
Based on My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy
When Ti Moune, a peasant girl, rescues the rich Daniel, she instantly falls in love and pursues him, with their different social castes dooming their potential relationship. What she doesn’t know is that the Gods who preside over the island have placed a bet on her life as to whether love is stronger than death.
Based on The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Camelot takes audiences to the world of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The show follows the story of Arthur’s rise to power, and eventual fall, with a focus on his relationship with his wife, Queen Guenevere.
Based on Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie follows a similar plot to the original book, telling the story of Carrie White, a teenager with telekinetic powers, a religious fanatic mother, and a school full of ruthless classmates. A trip to the prom with Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie, but eventually turns into a nightmare when her classmates see another chance to humiliate her. Their prom night prank has deadly consequences when it triggers Carrie’s telekinesis, and she unleashes her rage on the entire town.
Jekyll & Hyde
Based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dr. Jekyll is a well-respected doctor with a theory that illness is caused by the evil within human beings. When the hospital board refuses to support Dr. Jekyll’s experiment, he decides to act as his own test subject, the night of his bachelor party. The formula releases an alternate personality, freeing the more aggressive side of the good doctor. This alternate personality names itself Edward Hyde and spends the evening terrorizing London, even attacking Jekyll’s friend, a prostitute named Lucy. When the transformations begin to occur without warning, and increase in frequency, Jekyll withdraws from his friends and fiancée as he tries to fight the monster within.
Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Based on the novel of the same name, Little Women tells the story of the March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy as they come of age in America during the Civil War.
The story is told in flashback, as Jo, an aspiring author, tells their story after being advised to write more from the heart.
The Secret Garden
Based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
After losing her parents, Mary Lennox comes to live with her reclusive Uncle Archibald, who has been closed off since the passing of his wife, Lily. When she finds her aunt’s hidden garden, which has become overgrown since her death, she works to return it (and the grieving family) to its former glory.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Based on Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Lightning Thief is based on the first book in Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. When Percy finds out he’s a demigod, he’s thrown head-first into a world where Greek mythology springs to life, and he’s tasked with finding Zeus’ lighting bolts and returning them before war breaks out on Mount Olympus.
Based on Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home is based on Bechdel’s own life. After the unexpected death of her father, graphic novelist Alison does a deep-dive through her own past. Told in flashback, she recalls her childhood at the funeral home, her relationship with her family, discovering and embracing her sexuality, and begins to see her parents through grown-up eyes.
Based on American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho tells the story of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker who moonlights as a serial killer.
Based on Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
Big Fish tells the story of Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman who has lived a life filled to the brim of crazy stories. While most people are enthralled by his tall tales, his son Will is skeptical, and searches for the truth behind his stories.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Based on The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel is set in the 18th century, during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror in both England and France and explores the themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and of course, love.
Based on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Set in Puritain Boston in the 1640s, it follows Hester Prynne, a woman who has had a child with a man who is not her husband. Forced to wear a red A on her chest, she is ostracized from society and works to find a new start for herself and her child.
What's your favourite musical based on or inspired by?
Share your favourite musical based on books in a comment below!