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From Book to Broadway: 5 Musicals You Didn’t Know Were Based on Books

Category Broadway

|by Danielle Moore |

Check out these showstopping reads

When it comes to source material for Broadway musicals, the sky is currently the limit. This past season alone has seen everything from shows based on kids’ TV series (SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical) to those based on films both teen-oriented (Mean Girls) and foreign (The Band’s Visit) alike. But more than several shows, both old and new, have been based on novels or other works of literature. They don’t call a Broadway script a “book” for nothing, right? We’re turning the page on five Broadway shows and the books you didn’t know they were based on.

The cast of ‘Wicked,’ the musical based on Gregory Macguire’s novel (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of ‘Wicked,’ the musical based on Gregory Macguire’s novel (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Mean Girls
Tina Fey wrote both the original screenplay on which this show is based and the Broadway script, but the original basis of this now classic, pinked-out send-up of girl-on-girl crime was actually a...nonfiction parenting book? That’s right: Fey based the original script for the movie on parenting educator Rosalind Wiseman’s bestseller, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World.


While the casual theatergoer might think that this massive Broadway hit is merely an elaborate straight-to-stage fan fiction based on the classic MGM musical film The Wizard of Oz, this spectacle was actually adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire’s novel – which, for any Wicked fans itching for more Elphaba adventures, is actually part of a series – was based on the universe established by Franklin L. Baum in his 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which served as the basis for the 1939 film.  


The Phantom of the Opera
Broadway’s longest-running musical is based on a 1910 French novel by Gaston LeRoux, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, which was first published as a serialized story allegedly based on rumors of strange happenings at the actual Palais Garnier Opera in Paris. The novel has also enjoyed numerous film adaptations, the most memorable perhaps being the 1925 horror film starring Lon Chaney.


Head Over Heels
This new musical is, obviously, based on the music of 1980s girl group The Go-Go’s, but its story has some unlikely source material. The creators of Head Over Heels have paired hits like “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” with a script based on the 14th century novel The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia by Philip Sidney. We’re guessing this wasn’t exactly a light adaptation and, clocking in at 432 pages, we’re guessing it’s not exactly a light read, either.


The most recent Broadway revival of Cabaret saw movie stars like Michelle Williams and Emma Stone take the stage as Sally Bowles, but this iconic character – the interpreter of the show’s famed title song, as well as other classics like “Maybe This Time” – actually originated in a section of Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 semi-autobiographical novel, Goodbye to Berlin, which detailed the American writer’s experiences of pre-Nazi Germany.

For more showstopping theater, check out our list of Top Shows in August 2018.

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