11 Books That Inspired Great Musicals

October 7 2014
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It’s no great surprise that adaptations abound in the theatre world. There’s musicals based on plays (OKLAHOMA!), plays based on books (DANGEROUS LIAISONS), and musicals based on books which were based on other books (WICKED). Books have always been a main basis of new theatrical work, and rightly so. Literature is ripe with drama that begs to be staged and sung. Here’s our favorite books which served as source material for some of the world’s best-loved musical theatre.

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux

This French ghost story launched a thousand pop operas after Andrew Lloyd Webber's behemoth show debuted in the 1980s in London and on Broadway. It's really creepy if you just let it wash over you as you read. "Silently the senses abandon their defenses...."

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The Phantom of the Opera
Gaston Leroux

This French ghost story launched a thousand pop operas after Andrew Lloyd Webber's behemoth show debuted in the 1980s in London and on Broadway. It's really creepy if you just let it wash over you as you read. "Silently the senses abandon their defenses...."

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The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

What a story this is. An incredible book, a miraculous movie, and then a beautiful musical. If you ever find a production in your hometown or nearby, you HAVE to go. It's uplifting, gorgeous and life-affirming, just like the book.

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The Color Purple
Alice Walker

What a story this is. An incredible book, a miraculous movie, and then a beautiful musical. If you ever find a production in your hometown or nearby, you HAVE to go. It's uplifting, gorgeous and life-affirming, just like the book.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper
by Gypsy Rose Lee

Ms. Lee's memoirs inspired the musical GYPSY, which is often cited among the best American musicals ever created. "Ya gotta gimmick if you wanna get ahead...." And boy, did she get one. Well done, Ms. Lee!

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Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper
Gypsy Rose Lee

Ms. Lee's memoirs inspired the musical GYPSY, which is often cited among the best American musicals ever created. "Ya gotta gimmick if you wanna get ahead...." And boy, did she get one. Well done, Ms. Lee!

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Ragtime
by E.L. Doctorow

This sprawling novel inspired one of the greatest musicals of the 1990s and both ask the questions: how far have we come in 100 years, and how much further do we have to go? OTS's Kevin Myers cried really hard every single time he saw this show on Broadway (4 times, thank you).

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Ragtime
E.L. Doctorow

This sprawling novel inspired one of the greatest musicals of the 1990s and both ask the questions: how far have we come in 100 years, and how much further do we have to go? OTS's Kevin Myers cried really hard every single time he saw this show on Broadway (4 times, thank you).

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Close
Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

The book is quite harrowing when you think about it - an orphan boy is abused and put through some awful social systems before landing at a wealthy man's home. It's certainly not as "lovely" as the musical OLIVER! which was inspired by Dickens' novel. Part satire, part morality tale, and part fairy tale, the story has inspired so much popular culture and media over the years, yet we still enjoy the proper source material today.

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Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens

The book is quite harrowing when you think about it - an orphan boy is abused and put through some awful social systems before landing at a wealthy man's home. It's certainly not as "lovely" as the musical OLIVER! which was inspired by Dickens' novel. Part satire, part morality tale, and part fairy tale, the story has inspired so much popular culture and media over the years, yet we still enjoy the proper source material today.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Close
Wicked
by Gregory Maguire

This clever tome is the origin story for the Wicked Witch of the West. It was adapted into a really great musical, but fair warning: the ending of the show differs greatly from the book. A certain someone on our staff REALLY didn't like the way the show ends...further proof that the BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER!

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Wicked
Gregory Maguire

Based on L. Frank Baum’s beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire’s novel views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker lens. Brilliantly inventive, it offers a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
by T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot's playful cat poems have delighted readers and cat lovers around the world ever since they were first published in 1939. They were originally composed for his godchildren, with Eliot posing as Old Possum himself, and later inspired the legendary musical "Cats."

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot's playful cat poems have delighted readers and cat lovers around the world ever since they were first published in 1939. They were originally composed for his godchildren, with Eliot posing as Old Possum himself, and later inspired the legendary musical "Cats."

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
Les Miserables
Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
Tales of the South Pacific
by James A. Michener

Michener's stories inspired Rodgers & Hammerstein to write their beloved musical SOUTH PACIFIC, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

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Tales of the South Pacific
James A. Michener

Michener's stories inspired Rodgers & Hammerstein to write their beloved musical SOUTH PACIFIC, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
The Berlin Stories
by Christopher Isherwood

In this collection of Isherwood's writing, you'll see some familiar names like Sally Bowles and Fraulein Schroeder. Both these ladies can be found in Kander & Ebb's smashing musical CABARET. We really hope you've seen this show, and further hope you'll read the stories which inspired the tale about the times of the Weimar Republic in Germany.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
The Berlin Stories
Christopher Isherwood

In this collection of Isherwood's writing, you'll see some familiar names like Sally Bowles and Fraulein Schroeder. Both these ladies can be found in Kander & Ebb's smashing musical CABARET. We really hope you've seen this show, and further hope you'll read the stories which inspired the tale about the times of the Weimar Republic in Germany.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
Matilda
by Roald Dahl

Forced to put up with crude and distant parents, Matilda takes refuge in her love of reading. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When she is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
Matilda
Roald Dahl

Forced to put up with crude and distant parents, Matilda takes refuge in her love of reading. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When she is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close

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