Broadway Literature: 6 Books That Inspired Musicals

Have you ever read a book that was so imaginative that made you wonder how it would look if performed on stage? Well, many playwrights had - and made this dream come true! The adaptation of books for staging musicals allows the textual language to be complemented by artistic and musical interpretation - which turns the story into an even more magical and spectacular adventure. When you watch these shows, before or after reading the book, there are different expectations and the story on paper comes to life. So, here are 6 books that inspired successful Broadway musicals. Check them out in the list below! 

 

  1. 1. "Les Misérables", by Victor Hugo (1862)

    The story, that was originally written by Victor Hugo, takes place in the nineteenth-century France, between two major battles: the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the June Rebellion (1832). French society is portrayed from the socioeconomic panorama of the poorest population. The narrative starts with a denunciation of the human injustice: here, we are presented to the story of Jean Valjean, a man who, for having stolen a bread, is sentenced to nineteen years in prison. But this is the story of only the first volume of this novel: there are 4 others and each of them narrates the life of one person who’s related to Valjean. Together, these volumes witness the misery of that century.  

    Les Miserábles” won a theater adaptation in 1980, with songs composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg. One of the most famous and most staged musicals in the world, it won the title of the Best Musical by 1987’s Tony Awards (the biggest theater award in the world). In 2012, it also became a film, which was directed by Tom Hooper, received eight Oscar nominations and won three of them.

  2. 2. "Oliver Twist", by Charles Dickens (1837)

    The story centers on the misadventures of the orphan Oliver Twist, born in a working house and sold as an apprentice to a funeral director. After fleeing his life of servitude, Oliver travels to London, where he meets the "Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by elderly criminal Fagin. At this point, Oliver appears to be condemned to live in crime, but he meets people who believe in his good nature and surprise him with secrets about his origin.

    The book has been adapted to the cinema several times. “Oliver!” is a 1968 musical directed by Carol Reed, which won Oscars in the categories of "Best Film", "Best Director", "Best Soundtrack", "Best Art Direction" and "Best Sound".

  3. 3. "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen (1813)

    The five Bennet sisters (Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia, Mary and Kitty) were raised by a mother who was determined to find husbands for them, who would guarantee their future. When the young and successful Mr. Bingley begins to live with his sister and his best friend in a neighboring mansion, Mrs. Bennet sees in him a possible husband for one of her daughters. This is when Elizabeth Bennet meets Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley's best friend. At first sight, she believes he is the last man on earth she can marry, but, with time, she finds herself enchanted by the person she has sworn to despise for eternity.

    Despite the story settles in the nineteenth-century, the book is a success among modern readers, the result of a large number of adaptations to the cinema. In 2004, the Jane Austen story became “Bride and Prejudice”, a version of Bollywood - where music has an important place in cinema.

  4. 4. "The Color Purple", by Alice Walker (1982)

    Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s. “The Color Purple” addresses numerous issues of this social group, including its exceedingly low position in American social culture. Celie, the main character, was abused, physically and psychologically, during childhood by her stepfather and, later, by her husband. However, the density of the story is relieved by a delicate universe which is built from the letters Celie uses to write and the experiences of friendship and love, especially with the unforgettable Shug Avery.  

    Alice Walker's book, wrote in 1982, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, and gave rise to the movie of the same name in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg. A musical adaptation of the novel (based on the film) debuted at the Broadway Theater in 2005. A Brazilian version of the musical arrived to São Paulo stages in the second half of 2019. 

  5. 5. "The Phantom of the Opera", by Gaston Leroux (1909)

    The story matches romance and suspense to narrate the love triangle between the lyrical singer Christine Daaé - who believes being guided by an "angel of music” -, the passionate Viscount Raoul de Chagny - Christine's childhood love -, and Erik - an obsessed genius of music who inhabits the basements of the Paris Opera and is known as the dreaded “Phantom of the Opera”.

    There are countless musicals and plays with equally popular versions of this work. The adaptation of the 2004 musical for the cinema made by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Joel Schumacher is one of the best known.

  6. 6. "Romeo and Juliet", by William Shakespeare (1591)

    It is a tragedy written around 1591, in the early days of Shakespeare's literary career. The book is about two teenagers whose death ends up uniting their once enemy families. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love when they meet at a masquerade ball. When they discover that they belong to rival families, they decide to marry secretly, but fate reserves a tragic end for both of them.

    The musical West Side Story, based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, explores the love of Tony and Maria, which was born in the midst of the rivalry between two gangs: the Sharks (the Latin-American group) and the Jets (the ones who’s was born in the U.S). It is an original 1957’s Broadway production, accomplished by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins, and became a hit movie adaptation in 1961 when, among other awards, it won ten Oscars!

  7. 7. BONUS: "Dear Evan Hansen", by Val Emmich (2017)

    Unlike the other books already mentioned, “Dear Evan Hansen” was originally a musical, which, later, inspired the creation of a book with the same name. The adaptation to the literature was made in 2017 by Val Emmich. The musical is originally a composition of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the pair who already composed the songs of the Zac Efron’s success, “The Greatest Showman”.

    The title character, Evan Hansen, is a teenager and a high school student with a social anxiety disorder. He considers himself invisible among his schoolmates, until the suicide of a student turns all the attentions to him. What unfolds from there is a story of overcoming, accepting and, above all, the search for identity.

    Dear Evan Hansen” debuted on Broadway at the Music Box Theater in December 2016, after its world premiere at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC in July 2015 and an Off-Broadway production in March-May 2016. At the 71st Tony Awards, the musical was nominated for nine categories, including "Best Musical", "Best Soundtrack", "Best Libretto in a Musical" and "Best Actor in a Musical" to Ben Platt, who has become the younger winner in the Tony’s history!

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The article above was edited by Helena Cardoso

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