Culture

Give Our Regards to Broadway – 10 Best Books Turned Musicals

We were absolutely delighted at the news that not only is Helen Fielding's 1996 book (and ultimate chick-flick) Bridget Jones's Diary being turned into a musical next year, but British pop singer Lily Allen will be writing all new songs for the production. Naturally, the classic scene that ran through our minds was Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones belting out a boozy rendition of "Without You" at her office Christmas party, surrounded by a silent crew of colleagues waving their lighters in solidarity. Fun to imagine how that performance would be amped up on a Broadway stage, isn't it?

Although we at Signature usually focus our attention on television and movie-based projects, news about the "Bridget Jones's Diary" musical has inspired us to create a special post. Dust off your old playbills, and join the conversation as we highlight the top ten books that have successfully been adapted into Broadway musicals. In the comments below, make sure to tell us about your favorite book-based musicals that did not make our list.

Wicked

L. Frank Baum's familiar story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is told from the perspective of the good witch and the misunderstood wicked witch in Gregory Maguire's bestselling novelWicked. Eight years after captivating the literary world, Wicked was adapted into one of the most popular Broadway shows of all time, seen by two million theater patrons in North America and Britain. Evangelists of the book are quick to point out flaws with the on-stage adaptation, though personally, we prefer to enjoy them as two separate but excellent endeavors. (If we had to pick a winner, our heart is with the musical.) Following its success on Broadway, rumors of a "Wicked" movie have been swirling for the past few years, with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel under consideration to reprise their original roles. However, in January 2011, news came that ABC and Salma Hayek were reportedly teaming up to create a miniseries based on "Wicked." There's been no solid news on casting yet.

Ragtime

E.L. Doctorow's historical New York novel Ragtime has received the full adaptation treatment, and its various incarnations have fared well across multiple formats. The book ranks at number eighty-six on the Modern Library List of the Top 100 Best English Language Novels of the Twentieth Century; Miloš Forman's 1981 film was nominated for eight Oscars; and the 1998 Broadway play took home thirteen Tony Awards. Our curiosity about the most well-known iteration led us to conduct a very unscientific poll by asking five friends, "What is Ragtime?" Four of the five answered "a musical."

Big River

Mark Twain's ultimate coming-of-age adventure story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was turned into the Broadway musical Big River by renowned composer Roger Williams in 1985. It was critically praised throughout the duration of the show's run, and especially lauded for choreographer Jeff Calhoun's 2003 revival performance featuring both deaf and hearing actors performing together on stage.

The Color Purple

As everyone knows by now, whatever Oprah Winfrey touches seems to turn to gold. The musical adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, is no exception. Oprah took her devotion to Walker's story far past the reading recommendations she is known for by starring in Steven Spielberg's film adaptation as Sophie and producing the Broadway musical, along with Scott Sanders and Quincy Jones. Set in Georgia in the 1930s, The Color Purple describes the experiences of African American women living in the south, with a focus on racism and violence.

South Pacific

Talk about beginner's luck. Written at age forty, James Michener's first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and later became the source material for the award-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical. Set during World War II, South Pacific tells the story of an American nurse stationed on a U.S. Naval base falling in love with a cagey expatriate French plantation owner. After winning ten Tony awards, including four for acting (record setting at the time), South Pacific was turned into a successful movie in 1958 starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. The success of South Pacific was tested after a Broadway revival in 2008; it passed with flying colors by winning seven Tonys, including the award for best musical revival.

Oliver!

Charles Dickens' famous novel about intrepid orphan Oliver Twist made its musical debut in 1960 at London's West End. Oliver! has the distinction of being Charles Dickens' first novel successfully adapted for the stage, and also launched the careers of a few famous child actors, including Davy Jones and Phil Collins. The majority of Oliver! performances ran in England, and international audiences were not treated to a stage performance until the early 2000s. Propelled by the success of the England tour, Oliver! became a movie in 1968 that took home five Oscars. It's interesting -- but not surprising -- to note that Oliver! did not pick up an award for best book adaptation; both the musical and film adaptations were clearly very loosely based on Dickens' considerably more complex novel.

Man of La Mancha

If we could, we would personally thank seventeenth-century Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes for creating one of the most entertaining characters in literature. Cervantes' most famous novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, tells the story of Alonso Quixano (or Don Quixote, as he later rechristens himself), a fifty-year-old man whose obsession with books on chivalry drives him to embark on knightly quests. Though everyone around him questions Quixote's sanity, he continues to carry out quests of duty, which include rescuing princesses and slaying ferocious dragons. Don Quixote's story was brought to Broadway audiences in the form of Man of La Mancha in 1965, running for more than 2,000 performances and collecting five Tony Awards. A 1972 film soon followed, starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren.

Gypsy

America's favorite stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, became an even bigger national sensation upon the release of her memoir about life with an intense stage mom, Gypsy, in 1957. Two years later, Lee's memoir was loosely adapted into Gypsy: A Musical Fable, which garnered instant success and multiple revivals throughout the next forty-five years. In addition to a successful Broadway run, Gypsy was adapted into two well-received films: in 1962 starring Natalie Wood, and 1993 starring Bette Midler. Both actresses took home Golden Globes for their portrayal of Rose. In early 2011, news broke that Barbra Streisand is considering producing, directing, and starring in a new film adaptation of Gypsy.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables, or "The Miserable Ones," is familiar by name alone, regardless of whether you are a theatergoer or not. Victor Hugo's acclaimed 1862 historical fiction novel follows several French characters over a seventeen-year span leading up to the Paris Uprising of 1832. One of the central story lines focuses on Frenchman Jean Valjean, who must flee police officer Javert after stealing bread to feed his sister's starving children. Since the early twentieth century, Les Misérables has received countless film and television adaptations, though it wasn't until 1980 when the musical hit stages in Paris that the path was paved for it to become one of the most successful musicals of all time. Les Misérables has the distinction of being the longest running play in London's West End, and the third longest running play in Broadway's history. The universal themes of love, redemption, and the repercussions of social injustice cement the timelessness of the story, ensuring that it will continue to be adapted for the next fifty years or more.

Phantom of the Opera

Last, but certainly not least, is the granddaddy of all shows, the longest running play in Broadway's history: The Phantom of the Opera. Based on Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel of the same name, Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a disfigured composer living in the bowels of the Paris Opera who becomes a suspect in the disappearance of young singer Christine Daaé. Although there has been a resurgence of interest in Leroux's novel since the debut of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical in 1986, the book sold very poorly when first published and went out of print numerous times during the twentieth century. Phantom of the Opera is just about as popular as they come: To date, Phantom has shown in 149 cities within twenty-five countries with worldwide box office receipts totaling over $5.1 billion dollars.