8 New Musicals for the Bookworm
“Bookworm” is a title I have worn long and proud throughout my lifetime. If you are like me, nothing can be more comforting and satisfying than indulging in a good book. It is a unique way to be transported into another world, much like the theatre. However, initially, I strayed away from musicals that were based on pieces of literature. I was doubtful that they could fully live up to the wonderful words I had read on the page. This attitude is fairly common towards adaptations of books into any medium. Whenever it is announced that a new movie or television series is coming out based on a book or comic, it seems to send everyone into a frenzy. The literary community is very protective of maintaining the integrity of the story and doing it proper justice. However, after slowly exposing myself to a number of musicals that were inspired by books, I found that there was no need to be scared. These musical adaptations do not diminish the story in any way. Instead, the writers have created a different way to tell the story. They have the upmost respect for these works in their original form and only wish to show the essence of the book in their own particular way.
So to all my fellow bookworms who have avoided musicals based on literature, continue on to learn more about eight new musicals that fused the divide between literature and the musical theatre stage. Who knows, maybe listening to these shows will inspire some of you non-readers to join the “bookworm” club.
1. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (Music and Lyrics by Dave Malloy)
In this show, based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dave Malloy tackles and adapts a slice of Tolstoy’s classic into a mixture of electric pop and rock opera. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 premiered in 2012 to rave reviews and moved to two additional off-Broadway locations in NYC in 2013. Malloy’s fresh take on a literary classic upholds the themes and drama of the original novel while modernizing the sound and dialogue.
2. Emma (Book, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon)
Emma is a classic love story about a meddling girl who is determined to play matchmaker for her friends and family. Jane Austen’s novel has been adapted numerous times on screen and now Tony-nominated composer Paul Gordon has brought the regency period of Jane Austen to life on stage.
3. James and the Giant Peach (Music and Lyrics by Pasek and Paul, Book by Timothy Allen McDonald)
James and the Giant Peach is a beloved book from my childhood, so nothing made me happier than learning that one of my favorite composing teams had adapted it for the stage. Roald Dahl’s enchanting children’s novel has been reimagined through Pasek and Paul’s enchanting melodies and playful compositions. The musical premiered at the Seattle Children’s Theatre in 2013. (Click here to download the cast album for free.)
The musical adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s early comedies premiered through the Public Theatre as part of Shakespeare in the Park in the summer of 2013. Friedman and Timbers have done a wonderful job maintaining the Bard’s romantic and lovable comedy through a contemporary pop score.
5. Sense and Sensibility (Book, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon)
Jane Austen must have been doing something right because her work has been getting adapted more and more recently. Also adapted by Paul Gordon (who adapted Jane Austen’s classic Emma, above), Sense and Sensibility just finished its premiere run at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. As with Emma, Gordon does a magnificent job of creating an enchanting score to fully encapsulate the romance and intelligence that Jane Austen created in Sense and Sensibility.
6. Tuck Everlasting (Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen, Book by Claudia Shear)
Tuck Everlasting was originally written by Natalie Babbitt in 1975 and will begin Broadway previews on March 23, 2016. It tells the story of Winnie Foster, a young girl who stumbles onto a family with an extraordinary secret. Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, with the rest of their creative team, have formed a charming and enchanting musical.
7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Peter Parnell)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written in 1831 by Victor Hugo and made famous with Disney’s film adaptation in 1996. While Hunchback has been around for quite some time, its recent run at the Paper Mill Playhouse has put it in the spotlight. Many thought that this musical – with a dark, powerful score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – would be making its way to the “great white way.” While it looks a Broadway run might not be in this show’s future, with its cast recording set to be released this fall, it’s sure to capture the hearts of musical theatre lovers across America.
8. Daddy Long Legs (Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon, Book by John Caird)
Made famous on the silver screen by Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in 1955, Daddy-Long-Legs was originally a book published in 1912 by Jean Webster. It tells the story of orphan Jerusha Abbott who gets unexpectedly sent to college with the help of a mysterious benefactor. Jerusha writes to her benefactor once a month, but not knowing who he is, makes up the name “Daddy Long Legs” for him. Once again, Paul Gordon is able to maintain the core of the original book while still making it accessible to modern day audiences.
What are your favorite musicalizations of literature?