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The Quick 10: 10 Broadway Musicals Based on Books

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Broadway in Chicago recently held a conference on the topic of transforming books into Broadway Musicals, partially due to the success of "Wicked," the longest running Broadway Musical in Chicago history. But "Wicked" wasn't the first work of literature to be interpreted through song on the stage. Here are ten Broadway musicals based on books.

wicked1. "Wicked," "the untold story of the witches of Oz," is based upon the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire, which parallels L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz." The story follows the friendship of Glinda, the good witch, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and what transpired before Dorothy dropped in and started causing trouble. In 2003, "Wicked" opened in New York and quickly became a favorite among Broadway buffs, winning three Tony awards. Success birthed tours across the U.S. and productions worldwide. More than three million people have seen this play that imagines the lives of two "misunderstood" characters.
2. "Les Miserables" is my (and "American Psycho" Patrick Bateman's) favorite Broadway Musical of all time! Based on one of my favorite books of all time, the 1862 classic by Victor Hugo, in 2006, "Les Miserables" officially became the longest running musical in London's West End history. The original French version of the musical opened in 1980, but soon closed because of budget shortages, even though audiences loved it. In 1985, the Royal Shakespeare Company put on the first English production. Revolving around the themes of revolution and redemption, "Les Miserables" has been seen worldwide in dozens of languages.

3. "The Woman in White," written by Wilkie Collins in 1859, was adapted by Andrew Lloyd Weber into a musical in 2004. Original star Michael Crawford, who played the grossly obese Count Fosco, had to be replaced by his understudy when he fell ill from over-sweating in the fat suit.

4. "Jane Eyre," a musical based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë, premiered in Wichita, Kansas, with many locals cast in chorus roles and the main characters performed by Broadway professionals. After the small-stage success, the musical slowly transitioned to the Broadway stage in 2000. "Jane Eyre" featured songs about blindness, because at the end of the novel, Mr. Rochester is stricken blind after his estate burns down.

cats5. I didn't realize this previously, but "Cats" was based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot titled, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." With music composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber—including the infamous "Memory"—the play and Eliot's book of poems are whimsical takes on the psychological and sociological behaviors of anthromorphized cats, including Mr. Mistofoffelees, Skimbleshanks, and Grizabella. When Weber set the poems to music, little did he know "Cats " would become the longest running musical in Broadway history, until another of his musicals (based upon a book) ,"The Phantom of the Opera," broke the record.

6. Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical "Little Women" got the musical treatment as well. The show went through 55 previews before finally premiering at the Virginia Theatre on Broadway in 2005. Unfortunately, the reviews and reception were not positive and after 137 performances, Marmie, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy sang no more.

7. "Dracula" the musical, based on the novel by Bram Stoker, included such song favorites as "Fresh Blood." Composer Frank Wildhorn, generally skewered by the Broadway community, also composed the score for "Jekyll and Hyde." This attempt at a musical Victorian novel was met with disdain as well. Critics found the lyrics "unoriginal" and the plot hard to follow for those unfamiliar with Stoker's novel. Only after the musical moved to Austria did it meet critical and commercial success.

8. "Lord of the Rings," J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy series, has been adapted for the stage, complete with songs, several times. Despite being categorized as "musicals," the creators scoffed when asked if their productions were "musical theater," saying they created "theatrical adaptations with vital musical elements." Regardless, it's singing hobbits. Cincinnati, Ohio produced and staged all three books (LOTR, The Two Towers, and Return of the King) of the series, and gained much success

oliver9. "Oliver!" was loosely based on the novel "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens, and gave us such quotes as, "Please, Sir, I want some mo'"! It premiered at London's West End in 1960 and a London revival opened in 2009. Oliver! was one of the first musical adaptations of a book to become a stage hit, thus heightening interest in adapting other works of literature. Also, the show launched the careers of then child actors, Davy Jones (of The Monkees) and Phil Collins (of Genesis).

10. "My Fair Lady" is based on "Pygmalion," a play written by George Bernard Shaw that tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney Englishwoman who learns how to pass as lady of society under the tutelage of Henry Higgins. The play opened in 1956, starring Rex Harrison and a previously unknown Julie Andrews, and soon earned the rave review of: "The Perfect Musical." The musical's title refers to one of Shaw's provisional titles for "Pygmalion,"—Fair Eliza. Producers wanted to call the show "Lady Liza," but soon realized that the marquee would read "Rex Harrison in Lady Liza" and soon settled on "My Fair Lady."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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