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Reading Nook: Books, then Musicals

02/23/2017 12:34PM ● Published by Jennifer Gonzalez

By Diane Parfitt 

I was intrigued with the huge popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton. I am amazed at the creativeness of the writers, musicians and choreographers who can take a serious novel and adapt it into something that has broad appeal on stage. It got me thinking about other musicals that were based on books. Here are some of the most recognizable ones that many of us have seen.  


Mame is based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. I have seen the movie several times and was delighted to learn it was based on a popular novel. Patrick Dennis is the pen name for Edward Everett Tanner III who liked to write novels that felt like non-fiction, and he had several on the New York Times Best Seller list at one time. The stage play starred Rosalind Russell who also starred in the movie. It has been in revival for many years. 

Camelot is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White novel The Once and Future King. It was an extremely popular play on Broadway, and after the death of John F. Kennedy, it became associated with his Administration. Go see the new movie Jackie starring Natalie Portman to understand the connection. Camelot was released in 1967 to great success.  


Wizard of Oz was a 1902 musicalextravaganza based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was originally published in 1900. The play has been adapted many times since then and has also led to other books and musicals like The Wiz and Wicked. The 1939 movie with Judy Garland is probably the most memorable. Who doesn’t remember Somewhere Over the Rainbow? 

Damn Yankees is a musical comedy based on a novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop. The musical was on Broadway in 1955 and the movie was released in 1958. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set in Washington, D.C., with the Washington Senators and New York Yankees rivalry as a backdrop. As a devoted Senators' fan, but also enchanted with Mickey Mantle and his Yankee teammates, I would say the movie with Tab Hunter is one of my favorites.   

Man of La Mancha was a 1964 musical inspired by Miguel de Cervantes and his seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote. The play was hugely successful, originally running for 2,328 performances and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical has been revived four times on Broadway, becoming one of the most enduring works of musical theatre. The 1972 movie was also a success, winning an Oscar and several Golden Globes. Students still read the book and the song, The Impossible Dream is an all-time favorite. 

The Phantom of the Opera is the 1976 musical adapted from the 1909 novel by Gaston

 Leroux about the disfigured Phantom’s amorous obsession with the magnificent, naïve singer, Christine. But it’s the 1986 production by Andrew Lloyd Webber that we all know so well. I saw the play on Broadway and was blown away by the music. After 29 years and after being staged over 11,000 times, it is still playing on Broadway. The film adaptation in 2004 was moderately well received.  

Les Misérables is a musical based on the 1862 novel by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. The story reflects his social conscience and deals with social misery and injustice. Le Miz is set in early 19th-century France and tells the story of Jean Valjean, a peasant who goes to jail after stealing a loaf of bread for his starving niece. Upon release, he sets out on a quest for redemption and gets caught up in the drama of the French Revolution. The 1980 play premiered in France and then opened in England and the United States. It is still showing in London and is the longest running production. The 2012 movie with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway was nominated for many awards. Ms. Hathaway won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. 


The Color Purple,  the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, follows the journey of Celie, an African-American woman in the American South from the early to mid-20th century. The book was a great success and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, making Walker the first woman of color to win the prize. The 1985 movie adaptation, filmed on location in North Carolina, was very well received and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. The Broadway musical ran from 2005 to 2008 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2006. A revival opened in 2015, winning two 2016 Tony Awards—including Best Revival of a Musical. Word has it that Fantasia Barrino, who starred in the Broadway musical, will reprise her role in the movie version. 

Hamilton by Ron Chernow is the inspiration for the highly-acclaimed Broadway musical. The book is a well-respected biography of one of our lesser known Founding Fathers. It shares most every detail of his life, warts and all. Hardly the basis for a musical you say? A hip-hop rapping musical at that! You may not have known about the book, but surely you have heard of the play. It has won multiple awards and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote the musical after reading the book. I’m still hoping to see the play one day but it may be years before the line is not too long. Maybe they will make it into a movie by then, so many more people can learn about this brilliant man who was largely responsible for our Constitution and the nation’s financial system still in use today.      

I urge you to see the movies and see the plays, but remember all of these musicals were based on exceptional books that have not lost their appeal to book lovers everywhere, a sure testament to their value. Now the stories are both on the page and brought to life through song.


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