Five musicals besides The Secret Garden that were adapted from books.
The Secret Garden unlocks its gates at the Ahmanson this February, but the show carries a legacy from way before then. Originally published in 1911, The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett is viewed as a classic of English children’s literature. There have been many film and stage adaptations since, with the musical officially premiering on Broadway in 1991. With a book by Marsha Norman and music by the late Lucy Simon, The Secret Garden continues to captivate audiences with powerful music while staying true to the original story by Frances Burnett. But The Secret Garden is not the only musical to have been inspired by a historic piece of literature, so join us as we discuss more musicals that have been adapted from a novel to the stage.
Based on the beloved children’s classic by Roald Dahl, Matilda The Musical premiered on Broadway on April 11th, 2013, and mustered four Tony Award wins. Before its Broadway run, the timeless classic had a run in London’s West End, thrilling audiences of all ages. The show is no stranger to L.A. audiences, as the kids and cast of Matilda graced the Ahmanson stage in 2015. The show is perfect for audiences of all ages, reminding us all that, “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
Hearing the people sing is one thing, but this hit musical has been leading revolutions since 1862, when Victor Hugo published his French historical novel, Les Misérables. Following the themes of justice, love, and politics, the novel became an instant success. Though a classic, the novel was adapted into the musical we all know a century later, with the French production of the musical first premiering in Paris (1980) with direction by Robert Hossein. It was then adapted to the English-language by producer Cameron Mackintosh, opening in London in October of 1985. The production has since become a global phenomenon, having multiple runs on Broadway and on tour throughout the United States. The musical is also no stranger to the Ahmanson, which presented an all-new production of Les Misérables in 2011.
Elphaba may not know what she’s reading, but fans of the hit Broadway musical may be familiar with the history behind Wicked. Published in 1995 and written by Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West tells the untold story of Elphaba, a young girl who is “cursed” with green skin and must navigate ostracization from society while holding true to her values. The novels share a darker look into Oz, where we find that the Emerald City holds up smoke and mirrors, as the political and social landscape of Oz struggles to find peace within itself. Tackling the themes of social justice, political propaganda, and the roots of evil, the novel inspired composer Stephen Schwartz to ask the question, “Are people born Wicked, or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?” Originally, the novel was in talks to be produced as a film by Universal, but soon was adapted into the hit musical. Opening on Broadway in October 2003, the musical has since become one of the longest-running shows on Broadway that still proves to audiences around the world that “everyone deserves the chance to fly.”
The Phantom of the Opera
Beware, the Phantom! Originally released in March 1910, The Phantom of the Opera by Pierre Lafitte tells the story of Christine Daaé, a Swedish soprano who is called to the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, which is rumored to be haunted by the ominous “Phantom of the Opera.” The Phantom lurks through the shadows, becoming obsessed with Christine. The novel was adapted in 1986, first opening in London’s West End and then opening on Broadway in 1988. The show currently holds the title of “longest running show in Broadway history”, and even held a four-year run at the Ahmanson theatre, with the L.A. engagement on May 31st, 1989, and closing in August of 1993.
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Cats The Musical is often considered a polarizing piece of theatre. I personally love it, my supervisor on the other hand is questioning my judgement. Opinions aside, did you know that Cats is based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot that was first published in 1939! The musical was adapted in the West End in 1981, and subsequently opened on Broadway in 1982. It has since become a cultural phenomenon, and though it can be divisive, it’s sure to be an entertaining time!
The arts are interconnected, and theatre is always learning and evolving from the art around us. Are there any books you would like adapted into a musical? Let us know in the comments!
And don’t miss The Secret Garden playing at the Ahmanson Theatre February 19 – March 26, 2023.