With summer getting into full swing, some of us may find ourselves humming tunes like “Summer Nights” from Grease and “Our Last Summer” from Mamma Mia! or, for those hardcore theatre geeks, “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss me, Kate and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Yes, the sun has made many have musical theatre on our minds.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that so many of our favorite musicals are actually based on books. Generally, most know that Les Miserables, the tragic Broadway show and now award-winning movie, is based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. But even I, a show tunes aficionado, just recently learned that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. We’re talking about the second longest-running show in Broadway history here!
These are some of the highlights of literature-based musicals:
- Wicked – from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked
- Oliver! – from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
- Man of La Mancha – from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
- The Phantom of the Opera – from Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood – from Charles Dickens’ unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood
- My Fair Lady – from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
- Kiss me, Kate – from William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
There are, of course, too many to list here (some hits, some flops), but some digging around should lead you to the realm where music meets books. What all of these shows did, regardless of quality, is amazing: they took literature that may be tough to swallow and turned the books into fun, music-filled shows that clock in at about two hours while maintaining incredible emotional depth.
For those of you hooked in by musical adventures and show tunes, I definitely recommend checking out the books that inspired the theatrical masterpieces. You already love the story, so take time to explore it in another medium. Naturally, composers have taken liberties and smoothed the sharper corners of the novels, but don’t let this stop you. Just keep an open mind. Happy hunting!
(Cue humming of “Do you Hear the People Sing?”)