5 Musicals That Give "Inspired by a Book" a Whole New Meaning

Posted by Hayley on June 07, 2017


Some adaptations stick to the source material; some don't. While we adore a truly faithful interpretation (even as we cry, "The book was better!"), it's fun to see a new medium tease out an unexpected story from its source material.

That's certainly the case with the following musicals. From turning a Founding Father into a poetic rapper to using the research of a child psychologist to anchor a fairy tale, these adaptations are wildly inventive interpretations of the books that inspired them.


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West Side Story
Inspiration: Romeo and Juliet

Inspired by the basic narrative of the book… Fans of William Shakespeare's tragedy can recognize the bones of the plot in this classic musical, but the action has been transported to New York City in the 1950s and the uptight Verona families are now two rival gangs.


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Into the Woods
Inspiration: The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

Inspired by the psychoanalytical conclusions of the book… Written by a child psychologist, The Uses of Enchantment is about how fairy tale violence and misery help children cope. This prompted Stephen Sondheim and co. to create their own dark fairy tale mash-up.


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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Inspiration: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Inspired by the ridiculous advice of the book… Ready to get a little meta? The book is a satirical self-help guide about making it in business. The musical is about a window washer who reads that book and begins his own rocky ascent up the corporate ladder.


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Hamilton
Inspiration: Alexander Hamilton

Inspired by the scrappy real-life hero of the book… When Lin-Manuel Miranda started reading this scholarly biography, he imagined Hamilton's life as a musical after only a few chapters. But not just any musical—one infused with rap and hip-hop, starring a diverse cast of actors.


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Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Inspiration: War and Peace

Inspired by a mere 70 pages of the book… Leo Tolstoy's epic is over one thousand pages long, but composer Dave Malloy was only interested in Part 5 of Volume 2, which focuses on an affair and a search for meaning. His expansion of this tiny sliver of War and Peace earned 12 nominations at this year's Tony Awards.




Which inventive musical is your favorite? Share it with us in the comments! And check out our guide to the best stage adaptations here.


Comments Showing 1-50 of 73 (73 new)


message 1: by Nissa (new)

Nissa Cabaret Cabaret is my all time favorite books to Broadway.


message 2: by Isabella (new)

Isabella No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time


message 3: by Lulu (new)

Lulu The Flower Drum Song: the book is sooo sad, but good. The musical is great!


message 4: by J.M. (new)

J.M. Don't forget Les Misérables. The musical is awesome but I couldn't get past the beginning of the book.


message 6: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Chen Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


Same!


message 7: by Nullifidian (last edited Jun 08, 2017 09:57AM) (new)

Nullifidian My favorite musical adaptation of a novel is Ragtime (music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terence McNally), which managed to cram more of the writing into its adaptation than the movie by Milos Forman did. The book itself is a takeoff on a classic literary work by Heinrich von Kleist titled Michael Kohlhaas , who is transformed into the black revolutionary Coalhouse Walker Jr. in E. L. Doctorow's novel. Kleist's novella also inspired J. M. Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K .


message 8: by Megharin (new)

Megharin What about Wicked and Matilda?


message 9: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I love musicals here are some that are not already mentioned that I enjoyed.

Oliver!- Oliver Twist
My Fair Lady- Pygmalion
The Phantom of the Opera


message 10: by James (new)

James Tivendale Phantom of the Opera is a great book.
Les Mis is my second favourite musical (after Hamilton) but I struggled with the book. Will come back to it soon though.


message 11: by Leona (new)

Leona  Carstairs I AM READING ALEXANDER HAMILTON RIGHT NOW. I love Hamilton! I was in a production of Oliver Twist and am doing My Fair Lady this summer :D


message 12: by Janice (new)

Janice Bolick I love Fiddler on the Roof, and 1776


message 13: by Dy (new)

Dy J.M. wrote: "Don't forget Les Misérables. The musical is awesome but I couldn't get past the beginning of the book."

Lol. I loved the book, but have fallen asleep in the theatre both times I've been to see the musical.


message 14: by Brian (new)

Brian Wikipedia has a category for that! :)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categor...

I read Les Misérables a few years ago and will always cherish that accomplishment, though I would probably recommend an abridged version to others.
Don Quixote was also quite the commitment and differed quite a bit from Man of la Mancha.
Oddly enough, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is the one I have struggled with multiple times. One of these days it will get done.


message 15: by Linda (new)

Linda Cirillo My Fair Lady, inspired by George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.


message 16: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Carr Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


I'm the opposite. Love the book hate the musical. :-)


message 17: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Carr The Phantom of the Opera. Love the book and musical. <3


message 18: by Suzi Evelyn (new)

Suzi Evelyn Yes! I love Hamilton. I haven't read the book, though, because it's huge and I haven't had the time yet. Also, I usually lose interest in biographies just because non-fiction doesn't commonly capture my interest, and I really don't want that to happen with Alexander Hamilton.

I've tried listening to Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, but it's not as addictive as Hamilton, or other musicals like Dear Evan Hansen (not based on a book) and 21 Chump Street (also not based on a book). I haven't yet read War and Peace.


message 19: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Suzevelyn wrote: "Yes! I love Hamilton. I haven't read the book, though, because it's huge and I haven't had the time yet. Also, I usually lose interest in biographies just because non-fiction doesn't commonly captu..."

SPOILER: Hamilton wasn't black.


message 20: by Suzi Evelyn (new)

Suzi Evelyn Timothy wrote: "Suzevelyn wrote: "Yes! I love Hamilton. I haven't read the book, though, because it's huge and I haven't had the time yet. Also, I usually lose interest in biographies just because non-fiction does..."

What does this have to do with anything at all? I'm confused.


message 21: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Let's say I make a musical of Ellison's "Invisible Man" starring Justin Bieber. Something tells me you'd effing well figure it out then, wouldn't you...


message 22: by Bea (new)

Bea This is great!


message 23: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


I second that, wholeheartedly!


message 24: by Bigedsgirl1 (new)

Bigedsgirl1 Let's not forget The Color Purple featuring the incomparable Fantasia, based on The Color Purple by Alice Walker.


message 25: by Elle (new)

Elle Mathison Timothy wrote: "Suzevelyn wrote: "Yes! I love Hamilton. I haven't read the book, though, because it's huge and I haven't had the time yet. Also, I usually lose interest in biographies just because non-fiction does..."
He is white but go look at a picture on google from the musical it is obvious from the start


message 26: by Elle (new)

Elle Mathison Hamilton is literally so good i listen to the sound track all the timeAlexander Hamilton


message 27: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I love the musical Les Misérables. I have the 10th anniversary edition, and I have played it so many times. My son left the book behind, which has very small print, because the book is very long. I struggled a long reading the book with a powerful magnifying glass, and then I bought an audiobook to finish the book. The first part of the book is a history, and it is hard to get through, but then helps the reader to understand the situation. The book filled in a lot of the story for me. Finishing it was worth the effort.


message 28: by Tash (new)

Tash Uhm Where Is Les Mis


message 29: by AG (new)

AG Reads Bigedsgirl1 wrote: "Let's not forget The Color Purple featuring the incomparable Fantasia, based on The Color Purple by Alice Walker."

Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple was the best.

Daddy Long Legs, based on the book published in 1912, has a wonderful soundtrack.


message 30: by Fred (last edited Jun 08, 2017 06:39PM) (new)

Fred Dameron Hamilton may be the "Hot" Broadway Ticket but CAT'S has had the staying power to cross generations and make comeback's. Hamilton is in the wait and see if it can "stay" as long category.


message 31: by Aneesah (new)

Aneesah I can't believe Les Miserables didn't make the cut!


message 32: by Em (new)

Em The Reading Challenge Challenge Spring Awakening (adapted from the Frank WedekindFrank Wedekind play) is my favourite musical - and the play was pretty good too :)
Especially loved Deaf West's revival of it - can't imagine it without the sign language anymore <3


message 33: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


I didn't hate the book, but the musical and the book are night and day. I second that; "What, no Wicked?"


message 34: by Emma (new)

Emma Carlson I loved Matilda the Musical and Charlie, as well as Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (though that wasn't a musical). Also Wicked was amazing, and though it wasn't on Broadway, I love StarKid's Potter musicals


message 36: by No, David! No! (new)

No, David! No! I may be off-base here, but I think some have missed the point of the post. The five examples are specifically about musicals that have reference points in a book, but are not actual plays, and are not traditional adaptations. (There is even a link to a page about adaptations.)

With that in mind, I would not have included Wicked or Les Miserables either. I LOVE both books, and both musicals. In both cases, there is a LOT more depth of story in the books - that is what we love about books, right? At the same time, these two musicals are both pretty true to the source - same characters / names, same setting (time and local), same general take-aways / lessons. So, I would see both of them as true stage adaptations.

Ones that I might add to this list where they are very loosely based could include:
Rent, based on Libretto: La Bohème
Rocky Horror Picture Show, based on Frankenstein
Spamalot, based on The Legends of King Arthur in Art (or the many other version)
Jesus Christ, Superstar, or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, based on Holy Bible: King James Version

Just my two-cents.


message 37: by Bailee (new)

Bailee Walsh No, David! No! wrote: "I may be off-base here, but I think some have missed the point of the post. The five examples are specifically about musicals that have reference points in a book, but are not actual plays, and are..."
I was going to say that, too. So many people are commenting WHAT ABOUT THIS ONE? but most of those mentioned in the comments don't make sense with the title of the article!


message 38: by Carles (new)

Carles Muñoz Miralles Exactly... and good new list by No, David! No!

Except for Spamalot, whose source is more the film than the original King Arthur legends.


message 39: by No, David! No! (new)

No, David! No! Carles wrote: "Exactly... and good new list by No, David! No!

Except for Spamalot, whose source is more the film than the original King Arthur legends."


Good point about the movie. You are probably right.


message 40: by Megharin (new)

Megharin Elle wrote: "Hamilton is literally so good i listen to the sound track all the timeAlexander Hamilton"

SAME! I love the music and the history of Hamilton!


message 41: by Karen (last edited Jun 10, 2017 05:33AM) (new)

Karen Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


I know, I can't believe Wicked didn't make it on this list! I know that there are many other musicals that are based on books, but Wicked has been one of the biggest Broadway musicals in recent times. It is to the 2000's what Les Mis or Rent were to the late 80's early 90's (in terms of shows based on books).

As an American living in Melbourne, Australia, I am dying for Hamilton to make it's way here--or to go home to see it. The soundtrack to it is amazing. It's one of the things I miss about home--the proximity to live theatre. I've seen quite a few shows since arriving here, but there isn't the selection you have in the US where you can see pretty much any show you'd like either in NYC or a smaller city.


message 42: by Eujean2 (new)

Eujean2 For a musical inspired (though not a direct adaptation), I like Kiss Me Kate. The Taming of the Shrew is at the core under a story of a company putting on a production of the play, but the Cole Porter musical is wonderful. Plus "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is a fun romp for us fans of both Shakespeare & pop culture.


message 43: by Ilaria (new)

Ilaria Also the sequel of Phantom, Love Never Dies, is based on a book, The Phantom of Manhattan. I prefer the first musical (and the book too), but if you know/saw Love never Dies is an interesting reading.


message 44: by R.F. Gammon (new)

R.F. Gammon Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


I've never read the book of Wicked, but the musical, now. That one is amazing.


message 45: by Jenine (new)

Jenine J.M. wrote: "Don't forget Les Misérables. The musical is awesome but I couldn't get past the beginning of the book."

Yeah! I love this book AND it's music!


message 46: by Madison (new)

Madison Ruth I love a ton of musicals....the only one I've actually been to see on Broadway is The Lion King which is based off a film instead of a book.

I have seen the American Tour of The Phantom of the Opera and I loooooove the book as well.

Wicked is so good, but I've never read the book. I have seen the movie adaptations of Les Miserables, Into the Woods, West Side Story.

Apparently Wicked is getting a movie adaptation soon? (in cartoon form no less!)

Dracula got a musical as well, and I've been listening to the soundtrack, maybe I'll watch it via youtube soon! Also The Woman in White was adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber as well, (with Michael Crawford) I've read the book.


message 47: by Madison (new)

Madison Ruth Ilaria wrote: "Also the sequel of Phantom, Love Never Dies, is based on a book, The Phantom of Manhattan. I prefer the first musical (and the book too), but if you know/saw Love never Dies is an int..."

Love Never Dies give me so many mixed feeling because on the one hand it's a beautiful sequel, on the other hand, It kills Meg's character for me and then it kills well you know. I've only seen the dvd release though.


message 48: by Madison (new)

Madison Ruth Faith wrote: "Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"

I've never re..."


They are actually going to make the movie soon.


message 49: by Madison (new)

Madison Ruth Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the rest of the series in STAR KID's A VERY POTTER MUSICAL and it's sequels were so amazing!!!!! Especially before they had a huge budget and most of their props were random cardboard cutouts. They still were able to create a funny but emotional parody.


message 50: by Audrey (new)

Audrey Isabella wrote: "No Wicked? (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
I hated the book, but the musical is literally my favourite musical of all time"


Same!


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