Before The Bridges of Madison County became a Tony Award ®-winning musical, it was one of the highest grossing movies of 1995, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Meryl Streep and showcasing director and co-star Clint Eastwood’s astonishing range. A few years before that, it was a literary phenomenon: a few months after its April 1992 publication, Robert James Waller’s novel rocketed to the top of The New York Times bestseller list, where it spent the next three years.
With Los Angeles audiences immersing themselves in the love story of National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid and Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson at the Ahmanson Theatre through January 17, 2016, we chose 10 notable shows that also made the leap from page to screen to stage:
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (1907, 1949, 2013) Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel about a poor man who murders his way to his late mother’s family fortune was titled Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. The 1949 movie version, Kind Hearts and Coronets, starred Alec Guinness as all eight heirs/targets. Jefferson Mays played the same role in the Broadway production, which received rave reviews and a Tony for Best Musical. But the show, which comes to the Ahmanson in March, almost didn’t get made when the owners of the rights to the movie sued its creators. Lucky for us, the musical prevailed!
- The Phantom of the Opera (1910, 1925, 1986) Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was partly inspired by historical events at the Paris Opera. In 1925, it became a silent film starring Lon Chaney as the Phantom, which is most famous for the scene in which Chaney is unmasked, and Christine sees his horrifying face. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is the longest running show on Broadway, and played the Ahmanson Theatre for a record-breaking four years.
- The Secret Garden (1911, 1949, 1991) Bridges scribe Marsha Norman won a Tony Award for writing the musical’s book. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s book, which tells the story of a young British girl orphaned by a cholera outbreak in India and sent to live with her forbidding uncle, was originally serialized in a magazine for adults. A film version was made in 1919 but subsequently lost; the next movie was made in 1949 by MGM; and subsequent screen versions include several BBC serials, a Hallmark TV movie, a feature produced by Francis Ford Coppola, an animated movie, and an anime adaptation.
- Mary Poppins (1934, 1964, 2004) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Need we say more about this iconic children’s story of the eponymous nanny who is “practically perfect in every way”? P. L. Travers, who wrote the novel and its seven sequels, disapproved of the Disney film so strongly that she wasn’t invited to the premiere. It took years for her to agree to a stage musical—and she insisted that no Americans be involved in the adaptation. Mary Poppins broke records when it came to the Ahmanson in 2009–2011 featuring Ashley Brown, who originated the role on Broadway, playing the title character.
- The Addams Family (1938–1988, 1991, 2010) Gomez, Morticia, Lurch, Uncle Fester, Cousin Itt, Pugsley, and Wednesday were TV stars in the 1960s and movie stars in the 1990s, but they started out as the stars of a series of one-panel cartoons by Charles Addams, about half of which were published in the pages of The New Yorker, primarily in the 1940s and 1950s. The musical version, which hit Broadway in 2010, was adapted directly from the cartoons rather than from the screen versions.
- Carrie (1974, 1976, 1988) Stephen King’s first published novel was written in a trailer on a portable typewriter. Two years later, it became a hit horror movie—one of the few to receive Academy Award nominations. More than 100 adaptations of King’s works followed, including a 1988 musical version of Carrie that is considered one of the most legendary flop musicals ever produced, closing on Broadway after only 16 previews and five performances. (Technical difficulties included a microphone malfunctioning while being covered in fake blood.)
- Catch Me If You Can (1980, 2002, 2011) Frank Abagnale was one of the most famous con men of all time—and escaped the police twice—before he was 21 years old. His memoir of his capers across America and Europe, including impersonating a physician, an airline pilot, and a lawyer, were made into a Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who pursues him before becoming a musical that was eventually nominated for four Tony Awards.
- The Color Purple (1982, 1985, 2004) Alice Walker’s epistolary novel of an African-American woman’s struggles in rural Georgia in the early 20th century won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Oprah Winfrey made her big screen debut in the Steven Spielberg-directed movie, which became a successful musical—with a book by Marsha Norman—that was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2005. The show played the Ahmanson in 2007–2008, and a Broadway revival featuring Jennifer Hudson just opened to great acclaim.
- Matilda (1988, 1996, 2011) Roald Dahl’s story of an unusually precocious, horribly mistreated young girl who eventually gets revenge on the adults who wronged her was a children’s literature classic well before it became a movie starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito, who also directed. The movie was a critical success but not a domestic box office hit. In 2010, Royal Shakespeare Company premiered the musical, which went on to London’s West End, Broadway, and the national tour that played the Ahmanson this past summer.
- Big Fish (1998, 2003, 2013) Six months before Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions was published, screenwriter John August optioned the film rights and began adapting the story of a father on his deathbed, relating fantastical tales of his life to his estranged son. Tim Burton directed the star-studded movie, which received generally positive reviews, but the musical spent several years in development before a brief and disappointing Broadway run.