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Books to Broadway: Four Musicals You Didn't Know Were Novels First

Books to Broadway: Four Musicals You Didn't Know Were Novels First

Many great musicals have their origins in books. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda are just some of the countess classic novels whose journeys from page to stage have become Broadway legend. But there are also some lesser-known titles that have disappeared quietly beneath the shadow of their musical counterparts, eclipsed and/or forgotten. Here are four musicals that the casual theatregoer may have believed were straight-to-stage sensations, but whose lives actually began as a book.

1. Legally Blonde  by Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown’s comedy romance novel Legally Blonde, shares the same delightful cheesiness and glorious girly-ness as the high-octane musical that came after it. As the story goes, fashion major Elle Woods, destined to become a screen star or Victoria’s Secret model, makes a career U-turn after being dumped by high school boyfriend Warner Huntingdon III. Leaving Malibu behind she enrols at Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back her beloved. Both the movie starring Reese Witherspoon and the subsequent musical have gone on to eclipse the popularity and prominence of the source material but, as you can probably tell from the very 2000s Meg-Cabot-style book cover, it’s still just as fabulous.

2. Alexander Hamilton  by Ron Chernow

Nothing says ‘hip hop musical’ like a hefty biography of one of America's founding fathers. While holidaying in Mexica, writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted a ‘big book to read.’ He picked up Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and spent his trip consumed by the story. The result was Hamilton, a record-breaking modern musical phenomenon which has won 11 Tony awards, a Grammy for best musical theatre album and the 2016 Pulitzer prize for drama. Chernow's book, despite the length, is well worth a read, praised by historians and critics as ‘a robust full-length portrait’ of the man who shaped a newborn nation. And for younger readers, for whom an 800 page biography is a little more than they can swallow, bestselling author Melissa De La Cruz has just released The Alex and Eliza Trilogy, a YA series that follows the love story of young Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler.  

3. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra  by Gaston Leroux

In 1909, French writer Gaston Leroux penned a strange ghost story about unrequited love. When the story was first published it was not popular and eventually went out of print. The opera house in the story was based on the real Opera Garnier in Paris, which was considered to be haunted by a phantom. Leroux hismelf, whose speciality was investigative journalism, swears to his readers in the book's prologue, that his research proves the truth of the ghost. He stood by these claims even up until his death. Little did Leroux know that his weird little gothic novel would go onto become one of Broadway’s greatest musicals, The Phantom of the Opera, complete with sick guitar solos and a hard rock score.

4. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West  by Gregory Maguire

In 2017, Wicked surpassed The Phantom of the Opera as Broadway's second-highest grossing show ever, trailing only The Lion King. While many might think that the hit musical was inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it is actually based on a book called Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Maguire was inspired by both the original Wizard of Oz novel and the classic Hollywood film when he wrote his 1995 novel, which tells the story of a young Elphaba before she became so ‘wicked.’ But unlike the sparkling stage adaptation that debuted in 2003, Maguire’s book is not for children. While the musical gets about as risqué as the lyrics kiss me too fiercely/ hold me too tight, the original novel includes a number of graphic depictions and discussions of sex, sexuality, and sexual politics. And while Maguire’s novel wasn’t particularly ‘Popular’ in its own right, thanks to the musical’s success, over 5 million copies have since been sold.