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.
1. "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 BrontÃ«, 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.
5. 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
9. "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."