10 Great Musicals Based on Books!

Happiest of Fridays, everyone!

My two great loves are Musicals and Books.

Sometimes I get lucky and great books serve as the basis for musicals. This post is all about celebrating some of these wonderful marriages.  I’m ignoring some really terrible musical adaptations in favor of stage versions that capture the spirit and characters of the original novel, often while enhancing the original text with the aid of music and wonderful performers.

FYI – Since they’re really obvious, I’ll be leaving out “Les Miserables,” “Wicked,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” This is not intended to be a judgement on those shows, which I happen to hold dear.

However, no “Cats” Allowed – Based on T.S. Eliot or not.  Seriously.

1.  The Secret Garden (1991)

In my opinion, one of the most perfectly constructed musical adaptations ever, this musical captures all the wonder and joy of the classic story of Mary Lennox, her uncle Archibald, and the garden hidden away after the death of Mary’s aunt Lily. 

The Original Broadway Cast of “The Secret Garden” performs on the Tony Awards. Little Daisy Egan would win Best Featured Actress in a musical for her performance as Mary Lennox.

2.  Ragtime (1998, Revived in 2008)

Granted, the musical cleans up some of the seedier aspects of the novel (there’s no sexy Emma Goldman/Evelyn Nesbitt scene in the musical) but otherwise “Ragtime” is one of the best adaptations of a book to the stage ever produced.  The show got overshadowed during it’s original Broadway run by the monster known as “The Lion King,” but it’s incomparable score is much beloved of Broadway nerds everywhere.

The Original Broadway cast OWNING at the Tony awards.

3.  South Pacific (1948, revived in 1955 and 2008)

Adapted from James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” this musical is truly a timeless one.

The adorable Mitzi Gaynor performs “Honey Bun” from the film version.

4.  Big River (1985, Revived in 2003)

Adapted from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” with a score by Roger Miller.

A Commercial for the 1985 Broadway Cast – which I’d never seen until this.

5.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985)

Charles Dickens’ final, unfinished novel got a Broadway treatment thanks to Rupert Holmes – and the audience gets to choose the ending!   Isn’t that a marvelous idea?

6.  Sweeney Todd (1979, Revived in 1989 and 2005)

“The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” first appeared in penny dreadful novels around 1846, and was turned into a marvelous, chilling, and award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim in 1989.  It’s one of those shows actors would die to be a part of, and the movie version (starring Johnny Depp) was divine.  Even if it did spawn Hot Topic T-shirts and Sweeney Todd buttons on backpacks.  Whatever.

The 2005 Revival cast (playing their own instruments, mind you!) performs “A Little Priest.”

7.  Jane Eyre (2000)

Charlotte Bronte’s most famous creations came to the stage in the musical in 2000, to sadly not a great deal of success.  It’s a pretty dense book to become a musical, but the score is pretty grand.

The Original Broadway cast performs at the Tony Awards.

8. The Lord of the Rings (London Opening 2007)

Talk about an ambitious project.  It took how many years to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic three-novel series to movie theatres, and it seemed like a good idea to make a musical out of it?  Well, it was done, and from all accounts it was pretty good. The London cast has now closed, but there’s a cast recording available.

The tremendous London cast (led by the amazing Laura Michelle Kelly) performs “Lothlorien.”

9. The Woman in White (London 2004, Broadway 2005)

Wilkie Collins’ most famous novel, a ghost story about a young teacher, mistaken identities, asylums, and diabolical schemes.

This is the best I could find – a video of awkwardly cut together

10. Little Women (2005)

Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel seems like it would be a perfect match for the musical stage.  Doesn’t it?  Okay.  I don’t actually think this version is all that wonderful, despite having a few really grand moments.  I really just wanted to post this video of powerhouse Sutton Foster as Jo March singing her big number – “Astonishing.”

You’re Welcome.

Maybe next I should a post about not-so-great musicals based off books.





About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on January 14, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. FUN POST!

    And, hello: Jekyll and Hyde?


    Les Miserables?


  2. Oh, duh. Just read your intro. I’m a dumbass.

  3. You scared me with that Cats picture.

  4. I love that you included Drood! I think it is such a charming, fun little musical.

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