25 Musicals And Their Source Materials
Just about every musical is based on something even if that basis is remote and/or circuitous. Musical theatre is not an art form that lends itself to pulling ideas out of thin air. Below is a list of some of the most popular musicals of all-time and their source material. As you’ll see, the stage has drawn a tremendous amount of inspiration from a variety of sources.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Is based on… Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014, is based on the Roy Horniman novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. In 1949, the Brits turned the book into a movie called Kind Hearts and Coronets. For some reason, (almost certainly legal) theatre producers were unable to use that title.
Is based on… Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
It’s hard to believe that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is based on anything. In fact, the musical has no book (which really caused problems during rehearsals—the cast didn’t know what to do). Webber based his Tony Award winning musical on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. The lyrics to “Memory” were penned by Trevor Nunn and based on Eliot’s “Preludes” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”
Guys and Dolls
Is based on… stories by Damon Runyon
If it wasn’t for Damon Runyon and his short stories, “Blood Pressure” and “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” middle schools all over America would be without material for their spring theatre production. That’s because Runyon’s prose were the basis for Guys and Dolls. The musical would have won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama but the book’s co-writer, Abe Burrows, was believed to be a communist.
Kiss Me, Kate
Is based on… Taming of the Shrew
Kiss Me, Kate is the first production to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. The show was composed by Cole Porter and was his response to Oklahoma! KMK is not only based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but the show’s plot revolves around a musical production of the Bard’s play. It’s a show within a show sort of thing.
Is based on… a movie and novel of the same name
Legally Blonde is a thoroughly entertaining musical but it’s not the deepest work to ever walk the boards. The feel-good musical is based on a novel by Amanda Brown. Her tome also fueled a 2001 film. Both are dubbed “Legally Blonde.” Although she didn’t receive a degree, Brown study at law at Stanford and Legally Blonde is based on her experiences.
Is based on… Madame Butterfly
Miss Saigon is an updated version of Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Puccini based his opera, one of the world’s most performed, on a short story by John Luther Long. In Madame Butterfly, the tragic romance is between an American lieutenant and a Japanese girl. In Miss Saigon, the setting is the Vietnam War and the star-crossed lovers are an American G.I. and a Vietnamese girl.
My Fair Lady
Is based on… Pygmalion
Sometimes called “the perfect musical,” My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. “Pygmalion” is also the name of a character from Greek mythological that fell in love with one of his sculptures—which explains why Shaw used it. The play was first produced in 1912. My Fair Lady first hit the boards in 1956.
Is based on… Green Grow the Lilacs
Oklahoma! is not only one of the greatest and most successful musicals ever created, it’s also one of the first to incorporate songs into a coherent and serious plot. Hitherto, musicals contained a collection of tunes that had little to do with the plot—and creators usually went for laughs. The play Green Grow the Lilacs ran on Broadway a little more than 60 times in 1931. The Lynn Riggs’ work is largely forgotten while Oklahoma! is synonymous with musical theatre.
The Phantom of the Opera
Is based on… Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
The Phantom of the Opera is currently running on Broadway, London’s West End, Asia Pacific, Budapest, Hamburg, and Moscow. There’s also a U.S. Tour of the Phantom of the Opera. In 2015, look for Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles and Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco. While you’re waiting to hear the music of night, break out a little TPOTO trivia. The longest running show in Broadway history is based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux. The novel was first published as a serial in 1909 and 1910. The novel also inspired the famous 1925 film of the same name starring Lon Chaney.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Is based on… Spider-Man comics
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the most expensive Broadway production in the history of the Great White Way. The show also holds the record for the most previews. Turn off the Dark is based on the comic book character Spider-Man which was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The web slinger is one of the most popular comic book heroes of all-time.
Is based on… Tales of the South Pacific
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II used James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific as the basis for their 1949 musical South Pacific. They believed Michener’s 1947 novel would be the perfect vehicle to take on racism. Both the musical and the novel won Pulitzer Prizes.
Is based on… La boheme
Rent is the second musical on our list based on an opera by Giacomo Puccini. Puccini’s La boheme debuted in 1896. Rent debuted on Broadway almost exactly a century later. There are obviously a few differences between Rent and La boheme. The most glaring is the specter of AIDS/HIV in the former. La boheme is one of opera’s most performed works. Rent won a Pulitzer Prize.
West Side Story
Is based on… Romeo and Juliet
Arguably the Sgt. Peppers’ of Broadway musicals, West Side Story and its dancing gangs were inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, the musical gives us the Jets and the Sharks. In the musical, only Tony (Romeo) dies. In the play, both lovers depart this mortal coil.
Is based on… Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
If you said Wicked was based on the 1939 film the Wizard of Oz and/or L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz give yourself half credit. Technically, the blockbuster musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course, Maguire’s worked is based on the aforementioned movie and Baum’s novel. By the way, Wicked the musical differs greatly from the Maguire’s manuscript. The one thing that didn’t change was his idea of telling the story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
Is based on… The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Colloquial known as the “The Wiz,” the 1975 production won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz through the lens of African-American culture. Theatre fans loved it. The musical was turned into a film in 1978 that starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor. Despite picking up four Academy Award nominations, movie fans hated it.
MUSICALS BASED ON FILMS
Several musicals have been based on the films. Below is ten of the most famous “silver screen to musical theatre” adaptations of all-time. Interestingly, two of the following musicals were eventually turned into films thus giving us the whimsical genre of “a movie based on a musical that’s based on a movie. “
Beauty and the Beast… the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast
Billy Elliot the Musical… the 2000 film Billy Elliot
Hairspray… the 1988 film Hairspray*
The Lion King… the 1994 film The Lion King
Monty Python’s Spamalot… the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Newsies the Musical… the 1992 film Newsies
Once… the 2006 film Once
The Producers… the 1968 film The Producers*
Sunset Boulevard… the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard
Young Frankenstein… the 1974 film Young Frankenstein
*= turned into films
By David B.