New York shows based on books you can see right now
Theatre seasons typically feature plenty of shows based on movies, but there are also multiple books that have gone on to a new chapter with a play or musical adaptation. And it’s only fitting — books have the ability to transport the reader into an entirely different place or time with words, and theatre has that same power, building upon a playwright’s words and using costumes, sets, and actors to bring a writer’s words to life. Either way, you’re bound to forget the outside world for a while and immerse yourself into the world of the story being told.
Did you know that the some of Broadway’s most popular musicals have their basis in books? From accounts of real historical figures to new perspectives on classic characters, books have offered plenty of stories ripe to be turned into Broadway shows. Learn all about the book-based shows you can see in New York right now, and then add their literary counterparts to your to-read list!
Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea to write Hamilton while reading a biography of the Founding Father on vacation. That biography was Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, and Miranda famously imagined “hip-hop songs rising off the page” as he was reading the book. He even got to meet Chernow and later hired him as the historical consultant for Hamilton. Chernow spent six years helping Miranda write the show! Clearly, Chernow hadn’t tired of the Founding Father’s story even after writing 818 pages about him.
Miranda takes plenty of liberties from Chernow’s biography and Hamilton’s actual life — not least of all the constant rapping done by the 18th- and 19th-century characters — but the basic plot remains. The musical follows Hamilton from his arrival in Manhattan as an immigrant to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr. Along the way, he fought the Revolutionary War and became George Washington’s right hand man, married the wealthy Eliza Schuyler (and messed up that marriage more than once), and was hired as the country’s inaugural treasury secretary, shaping the country’s financial and political systems for centuries to come.
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside your…bookshelf? Seventy-six years before The Phantom of the Opera musical premiered, the French author Gaston Leroux penned the story in 1910. He based his novel on a real fire-turned-chandelier-crash at the Paris Opera House in the 19th century, combining it with rumors that a ghost was haunting the Paris Opera House. The Phantom isn’t an actual ghost in the book or the musical (spoiler?), but he lives in the opera house’s underground and haunts the venue with a ghostlike presence.
In both iterations of the story, the Phantom gives voice lessons to the fast-rising soprano Christine Daaé and quickly becomes obsessed with her. So when she rekindles an old flame with her childhood friend, Raoul, he turns jealous and threatens to destroy the Paris Opera House — and the couple — if she doesn’t stay with him. Now that this dark, haunting romance has become the longest-running Broadway musical in history, the third longest West End musical, and the subject of productions all over the world, Leroux’s story has become synonymous with the music of the night.
If you can’t get enough of Wicked after seeing the musical, thank goodness there’s a 406-page novel out there to read! The Wicked musical is based on Frank Maguire’s 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which places the Wicked Witch — actually named Elphaba — at the center of the story and follows her time as a misunderstood university student, her crusade against the corrupt Wizard, and the real reason water can melt her.
The musical adaptation is significantly more family-friendly than Maguire’s book, further developing Elphaba’s friendship with Glinda and romance with Fiyero, and taking out most of the violence and profanity that Maguire adds to his tale. And of course, you can’t hear “Defying Gravity” or “Popular” in the Wicked novel. But without that novel, we wouldn’t have the Tony-winning hit that audiences have called “wonderful” for nearly 20 years. If you still can’t get enough, Wicked is the first novel in a series called The Wicked Years, which includes three other revisionist novels based on Baum’s characters: Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was never a novel in itself. J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne’s script was released as a book at midnight on July 31, 2016 — coinciding with the play’s opening night in London and the titular character’s 36th birthday — but the story has always existed as a play. But of course, most of the characters are staples of Rowling’s globally popular Harry Potter novel series, following an extraordinary boy wizard through seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and his fight against the evil Lord Voldemort. he play is a continuation of — and return to — the stories told in those books.
The Cursed Child play picks up right where the last Harry Potter novel left off, when a grown-up Harry, 17 years removed from his final battle with Voldemort, is sending his son Albus Severus to Hogwarts for the first time. Albus makes fast friends with Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s old rival, Draco. At school, they meet Amos Diggory, the father of one of Harry’s classmates that Voldemort killed, and he asks the boys to go back in time and bring his son back. Albus and Scorpius witness moments from the original Harry Potter books during their time-traveling adventure, and the the original Golden Trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, along with Draco, go after them to stop the pair from reawakening dark forces the Wizarding World thought it was rid of.
We all know Aladdin as the beloved animated movie that became a hit Broadway musical. But the story of Aladdin began as a Middle Eastern folk tale that’s been around for centuries. Aladdin is one of the most famous stories in the Middle Eastern folk tale collection One Thousand and One Nights — even though it wasn’t included in the first version of the text! One Thousand and One Nights was compiled in Arabic between the 8th and 14th centuries, and Aladdin was only added in the 18th century, when the French translator Antoine Galland added it and other stories to the first European version of the book after hearing them from a Syrian storyteller.
Nonetheless, Aladdin has been included in the book ever since and has only increased in popularity since getting the Disney treatment. As the original story goes (and is mostly the same in the Aladdin movie and musical), the title character is a lowly street urchin who is tricked by a sorcerer (who becomes the villain Jafar) into retrieving a magic lamp from a booby-trapped cave. Aladdin finds a genie in the lamp and uses it to transform himself into a prince so he can win the hand of an Arabian princess and defeat the evil sorcerer.
Between the Lines
Between the Lines is the title of three things: Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer’s #1 New York Times bestselling book; the new Off-Broadway musical based on that book, and the book within that musical and book. To explain another way, Picoult and van Leer’s Between the Lines centers on a 17-year-old girl named Delilah, whose favorite book is called Between the Lines. She turns to it for comfort and companionship when she feels like an outsider at school.
One day, the handsome prince from Delilah’s book comes to life, and the two strike up a friendship — but is it real? This story is at the heart of the Between the Lines musical, which Timothy Allen McDonald has adapted from the original novel. It was van Leer’s first published work and Picoult’s first young adult novel, but the musical will delight the imaginations of all ages. If you can’t get enough of the story, the Between the Lines book has two sequels you can read after seeing the show.
Ever wondered what comedian Sarah Silverman was like as a child? The title of her new musical, based on her same-named memoir, might offer a clue. Silverman dishes on all her childhood secrets in The Bedwetter, and they’re made into energetic musical numbers with a score by the late Adam Schlesinger. Silverman has collaborated with Prayer for the French Republic playwright Joshua Harmon on the musical’s book, so with all these great talents together, this show is sure to be as big a hit as Silverman’s bestselling book.