I saw Les Miserables last week and, when I'm not humming "Call Me Maybe," I've been singing "Bring Him Home" to myself (note to self: those high notes should not be attempted). So on that note, here are five musicals that got their start as books before they started infecting people's minds with their catchy showtunes:
Five Musicals Based on Books
1. Les Miserables
Loosely translated as "the miserable ones," middle school students have been mispronouncing this title for years. I've never read the Victor Hugo novel (it's on my never-ending list), but from what I understand, the musical does a really great job capturing the story of redemption, rebellion, love, morality and justice. Yeah, there's a lot packed in there...but it is a 3 hour musical and a well over 1000 pages long novel. Les Mis focuses on student revolutionaries, factory workers, and a ex-convict trying to right his life. Many consider the Les Mis to be one of the most important novels ever written. Fun fact: neither book nor musical is set during the French Revolution as most people seem to believe. Rather, it's the June Rebellion - an insurrection in Paris of mostly students against the monarchy. Watch this vid...how can that not make you want to read this book/listen to the musical?
2. The Book of Mormon
It's right there in the title. Though not a traditional novel, everything that happens in this musical technically stems from the Mormon practices that the book sets forth. Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is a strong musical: catchy songs, endearing characters, and a plot that's consistent. While it certainly pokes fun at Mormons, it's not making them into bad people...if anything it highlights their optimism. And it's not just a religious satire, there's a bunch of jokes about musical theater in there as well (Wicked, The Lion King, and Fiddler on the Roof, to name a few). Plus...there are ewoks involved. The Book of Mormon won a Tony for best musical and a Grammy for best musical theater album. It's going to become a movie and I predict some sort of Oscar for that. If it ever becomes a TV show and wins an emmy...The Book of Mormon will have an EGOT.
3. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
This musical was originally written for a TV special starring Julie Andrews, it has since been adapted for the stage and I've always wanted to be one of the step-sisters. It debuted 7 years after the Disney version, but is a lot closer to Charles Perrault's fairy tale. Out went the wise-talking mice and evil cat, and in came more poor, sad Cinderella. Fun fact: in Perrault's fairy tale, there isn't just the one ball that Cinderella attends. She gets her groove on multiple times before she loses her shoe.
So technically, this musical comes from Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name (the first in The Wicked Years series), but a lot of the plot points, and jokes, come from L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz...and the movie. The basic political themes are still present in the musical and the focus on good intentions, but the show strays farrrrrr from the book's complex plot. Really the only connections are the title, character names, and a basic plot line. People who see the show and try reading the book are usually left surprised when there's no fun, peppy banter to make them giggle. But really, both the musical and the Maguire series are great. Plus, the musical made Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel household names...in the houses of musical theater geeks.
I once wrote a 20 page term paper on this musical. We had to select a musical that came from another source and explain how the musical elements heightened emotions and other nonsense. I didn't realize that the stage version and movie versions are incredibly different, which meant that I got to write an extra long paper about added emotions from Liza Minnelli songs. Anywho, Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood, details pre-Nazi Germany. The drama circles around Jewish and homosexual characters as Nazis rise to power. The book is interesting in it's own way, but the musical adds an extra element to the story and makes the audience think. In the musical, the Emcee of the cabaret provides commentary on everything, there are recurring musical themes that highlight the changing times and there's an eerie song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," that sounds sweet until you realize it's become a Nazi anthem. Also, Basil from Austin Powers is in the movie. True story. This is the opening to the musical, but with MUPPETS!!!