7 Musical Adaptations Waiting to be Written
Hey all! Last time you heard from me, we took a look at why you need to get the rights to copyrighted source material when writing a musical. But what if you’re dying to adapt something but can’t deal with copyright? Well, you’re in luck! There are so many great stories out there in the public domain, meaning you don’t have to worry about all those messy copyright details. Most historical figures. Myths, fairy tales, and legends. And you can always check out Project Gutenberg.
But if you’re looking for inspiration for your adaptations, I’ve got a few ideas I’ve been keeping in my back pocket. I’m not the right writer for them, but I’d love to see each of these find its voice onstage. So take them, world! Please! Make them happen! Go!
These first two come to you from Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath. First, we’ve got Wu Zetian, the only female Emperor of China. This woman wanted power… to the point that she supposedly murdered her own daughter to frame the queen, allowing her to ascend to the Emperor’s side. From there, she murdered the Emperor with slow-acting poison (ouch…) and ultimately installed herself as Empress. And that’s not even half the story.
But murder withstanding, Wu Zetian was actually a pretty good ruler for China, doing great things for education, literature, and the expansion of the empire. And in the wake of Here Lies Love and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,what better material for a musical than this kind of exploration of power?
Next up, we’ve got Nzinga Mbande, the 17th century queen of what is now Angola. I’ll admit, there’s a lot of hearsay about this lady, who was a fierce leader who defended her nation against the Portuguese. One story says that at one meeting with the Portuguese, her rivals offered her no chair. In response, she ordered a servant to get on all fours as a chair and then – at the end of the meeting – killed her, saying that the queen doesn’t use the same chair twice. But rumor or fact, she was a pretty amazing and powerful lady who fought for years for the freedom of her people – not only through military force but intelligence and great political prowess. This kind of person was meant for musicals.
Mr. Pim Passes By
Now for something a little lighter. A. A. Milne is a terribly witty writer. You probably know him as the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. But Milne had actually been a successful playwright for years before writing the children’s classic. One of his many plays is a fun romp called Mr. Pim Passes By. Inept house guests. Mistaken identity and invalid marriages. Young love. A sassy older matriarch. Hijinks galore for a great musical comedy of epic proportions.
“The Heather Lintie” by S. R. Crockett
Short stories have made some great source material for musicals. If you’re looking for one, there’s a beautiful and sad short story called “The Heather Lintie” by Scottish writer S. R. Crockett. Simplified version: Janet is a lovely but “prematurely old” young woman, as Crockett says. She has pretty much no connection to the world beyond her small cottage in the woods. But she has aspirations. She wants to be a great poet, slowly amassing a private collection of poetry. Finally, Janet decides that she’ll have the recognition she deserves. So she self-publishes a book of her poetry and sends it off – all the while declining in health. Turns out Janet’s right. She is a great poet – receiving praise in a big city paper as a poetic genius. But will this praise make it to Janet in town? Somebody get on adapting this story, please!
Since I first heard Rob Rokicki’s “Say Goodbye,” I’ve been obsessed with bringing the story of Medusa to the stage. Because she clearly sings…
Medusa – if you don’t know – had the uncanny ability to turn anyone who gazed at her into stone. But if you read Ovid’s version of her story, she wasn’t always a snake-headed monster. Medusa was a beautiful priestess in Aphrodite’s temple. One day, Poseidon, god of the sea, takes a look at Medusa and rapes her. Aphrodite doesn’t like that her temple was defiled. So she turns Medusa into the monster we all know, with Poseidon walking away scot free. From here, Medusa goes into exile, amassing a collection of human statues until the day a young man named Perseus swings by.
La Reine Margot
Everyone’s obsessed with British royalty. But if there’s anything that watching Reign on The CW has taught me, it’s that the French monarchy has a lot to offer. (Yes, I watch Reign. It’s actually good, guys. Plus, Megan Follows who played Anne of Green Gables in that Canadian miniseries from the 80s is all grown up and starring as the murderous French queen Catherine de Medici. Childhood shattered.) Anyway, I’m not sure anyone’s fictionalized French royalty like Alexandre Dumas. You probably know The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask. But there’s another one – La Reine Margot – that’s worth a read. It’s got massacres, politics, fights, forbidden love, and of course a conniving Catherine de Medici.
La Reine Margot has all the makings of a great musical. Something big and epic with a classic Broadway score or maybe a harder rock interpretation. Bring it on!
William and Caroline Herschel
Anyone who says that science doesn’t sing hasn’t taken a look at William Herschel and Caroline Herschel. This brother-sister team from Germany came to science later in life. (They were originally musicians in case you needed a reason to have them sing.) And both made incredible leaps for the field of astronomy. William discovered a planet. And Caroline discovered almost a dozen comets. In fact, she was the first woman to do so, all while coming out from under the shadow of her brother’s success. Now someone write the show and get Sutton and Hunter on retainer.
Happy writing, all!