Books that Inspired Musicals

Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

Pretty orphan Christine is raised in an opera house in Paris since her father worked there and apparently, there were no child custody laws back in the day. There also wasn’t any adult supervision since from her childhood on she receives singing lessons from a disembodied voice that has perfect pitch and a penchant for teaching? (spoiler: the voice is the phantom, a disfigured outcast who roams the rafters and pipes of the opera house). She grows up under the watchful eye of a ghost voice aka creeper extraordinaire. Then one day the hot Viscount she has a childhood crush on rolls into town and the masked man in the basement gets jealous. Initiate love triangle: A rich Viscount she’s low key in love with, or a basement-dwelling stalker who watches her while she sleeps- who WILL she choose? And somehow, Andrew Lloyd Weber heard all of that and thought, “ok but what if we just sang the entire thing”? The 80s were wild.

Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

What’s really fun about this book-to-stage adaptation is that you know Charles Dickens would be thrilled. He named his kids things like Snodgrass Whistleteeks or something, he’d be all over a musical. Anyway, this story is winding and heartfelt, as we follow along with Oliver as he tries to navigate the misery of being an orphan in brutal industrial London. All he wants is a family to call his own, but he’ll get into many adventures along the way, the little scamp. 

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

While it tries its best, the musical adaptation is reductive and fails to really capture the political commentary that lives inside the words of Victor Hugo; words that still resonate today. This is a story of injustice, tyranny, and one man’s enduring hope for redemption, both personal and societal. At times a tense thriller crosses over into compelling drama and swoon-worthy romance without ever feeling jarring. This is a testament to the skill of Hugo as a writer and his transitions feel subtly natural.  This one looks long, but it’s going to leave you wanting more, and you’ll never look at bread the same way again. 

Wicked – Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire saw The Wizard of Oz and thought, cool, but what if we gave Oz and its citizens depth and perspective? Hence, Wicked was born, and although its film counterpart was made to entrance children, this novel was not.

Instead, it asks hard questions as it takes the notions of all or nothing, good vs. evil, and flips them on their heads. It begs us to cite sources and reminds us that A story is not the WHOLE story. Maguire creates a rich world that’s fleshed out with imaginative flourish that serves to entertain and enrapture.  It also explores themes such as the insidious and subjective societal standards of beauty, as well as what good and evil really look like. How do we tell? And who decides?

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