From Pages to Stages: 5 Novels Perfect for the Musical Stage

It is not uncommon for musicals to borrow inspiration from other works of art. Often times, they even result in something more concrete—they become adaptations. Such is the case for many well-known musicals of all time, like RENT and Miss Saigon, inspired by the operas La Boheme and Madame Butterfly respectively; Catch Me If You Can and Ghost from their film counterparts of the same titles; Les Miserables from its original form of a novel; the list goes on and on.

Perhaps because of its collaborative and dramatic nature, theater serves as an excellent avenue to explore concepts and stories originally found in other forms and reinvent them with a new perspective, if not a different one altogether. And as I browsed shelf after shelf of novels both old and new, I found myself in such a high wondering what it would be like if they actually made it to the stage: the lights, the characters brought to life, and the music.

In the course of looking for the ones I thought would do great if musicalized, I also realized that theater constantly yearns for humor and drama, adventure, and those that, amidst their larger-than-life stories, remain grounded upon human nature. There are a lot of these, I know, but here are some of the novels I would like to see and hear taken from pages to the stages.

1. Noli Me Tangere – Jose Rizal

1 - NoliAlthough there have been numerous great attempts locally in staging this popular piece of Philippine literature, I still find myself craving a more global approach that would hopefully enlighten other people beyond those whom the story is about (probably using a translation in English would also help with that).

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) proves to be even more than the story of a people’s desire of freedom, but also on a personal level, the transformation of one person’s hope and innocence to complete desperation. There’s so much drama and richness found in its characters that dialogue alone would not be able to hold—hence the need for musical expression. With a story whose relevance is utterly as timeless as this, trust me when I say Noli would not disappoint for an onstage experience.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

2 - NariaA classic in its own right, Narnia is a series deserving of more attention than what it is being given. Founded on subtle symbolisms and inspirational themes, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, probably the most popular book of the bunch, would be a pleasure to see unfold with the help of music and other theatrical devices to bring its magic to reality. With its rather fantastical approach to human truth, it appeals not only to adults and sophisticated audiences, but also to children and the young, for it tackles something so inherently common amongst all people—hope and faith.

3. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Extremely popular and a classic for all ages, I think The Little Prince would make for a great musical theater experiment. Seeing as it was already adapted in 1981 as a musical, I think the “edgy” and down-to-earth vibe of contemporary musical theater would do well to interpret this somewhat poetic piece of fiction.

4. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

Since it is probably one of the most emotionally and spiritually enriching novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading, I am beyond curious to see how Five People would perform as a musical. With interesting and relatable characters set in such an intriguing premise (who would you meet in Heaven?), the possibilities of how music and libretto can be approached seems to be ultimately promising. I would be lying to myself if I said I didn’t decide on a dream cast as I was writing this down.

5. Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

5 - BTTBridge to Terabithia deals with a personal journey, banking more on introspective reflection than on the circumstances surrounding it. Dealing with something so familiar to all of us, it features two young adults—barely even teenagers—and how they handle the difficult journey of growing up. What makes it even more interesting is in the process, they discover what it really means to love—among many other realizations.

With a theme and story as intimate as this one, I can only imagine what beautiful music and dialogue would be created, should it ever make it on the stage. Since it wouldn’t really demand a gigantic platform, it would be interesting to see how Terabithia would adapt to a homey and somewhat rustic stage environment. No matter how I look at it, I can only imagine simplicity at its finest.

Proven by the success of their predecessors, I can only assume that these five stories found in the pages of such masterful novels will emphasize how much more can be explored in this kind of collaboration. After all, such stories that exist mainly to challenge, question, and beautify life in all its perspectives are just begging to be sent to new heights through musical adaptation.

I would love to hear what novels you think would make for a good musical! Comment below and let the sharing begin!

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