Let’s state the obvious for a moment: creative types love paying homage to great works. If done well, it’s a win-win: the original gets more recognition and praise for its genius, and the new work aligns itself with that fame while being able to stand on its own. The most paved route to this is the adaptation, something you’ve already groaned over if you’re aware of any movie from the past 15 years. Book adaptations to stage plays and musicals, however, can go beyond movies, pulling from higher-brow or obscure titles, adding musical complements, and having the attendee feel that in-the-moment electricity of a story unrolled live. We’ve found five outstanding new and returning Broadway shows with their roots firmly in literature. (abbreviated edition of this article: Cats is back.)
Cats – based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
- Opens: July 31st
- Cool people in it: singer/songwriter Leona Lewis – remember this song?
Maybe it’s because it’s a broadway staple, maybe it was because you were too young to see it and were scarred by the costumes, but it feels as if Cats never fully left your mind. That’s likely because Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber’s opus has only been off the Great White Way since 2000, and he wasted no time filling the absence he thought we felt with as many musicals as Weber-ly possible. T.S. Eliot’s book of whimsical poems on the social lives of cats was written for his godchildren, and Weber translates that same spirit of flamboyance and almost-condescendingly simple character descriptions “perfectly”. For better or for worse, you will be hearing “Memory” for what feels like the rest of your life (don’t worry, we’ll spare you this time).
Les Liaisons Dangereuses – based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s novel of the same name
- Opens: October 30th
- Cool people in it: Liev Schreiber from Spotlight, Ray Donovan and generally being a beefy heartthrob
You’ve got to hand it to the French for having their thematic toolkit locked down. Les Liaisons Dangereuses (or The Dangerous Liaisons for you non-Francophiles) follows two rivals and ex-lovers who spin a long, complicated web of seduction and deceit. This very faithful adaptation (take notes, Cruel Intentions) plays all the hits: clandestine paramours, questions of morality and dishonor, conquest and – apropos to the time period – at least one person contracting smallpox.
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace
- Opens: November 14th
- Cool people in it: Josh Groban, of “Josh FREAKING Groban” fame
It’s unbelievable what a creative storm was conjured from a mere 70-page slice of War and Peace (Volume 2, Part 8 for you Tolstoy boy-toys out there). The plot itself cuts right in on the action where Natasha, a beautiful ingénue visiting Moscow, is seduced by a married man. Wiht her position in society ruined and her fiancé unaware, her only hope of redemption lies with the lonely outsider Pierre. The imaginative, genre-fusing musical combats any eye-rolling that comes with bringing up Russian epics by playing with a self-aware humor and a cabaret-like staging. The Great Comet has recieved an infernal level of praise from critics and is sure to be one of the biggest Broadway shows next year – just a warning to try and get tickets now.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name
- Opens: March 2017
- Cool people in it: Christian Borle from Peter Pan Live!, Smash, Something Rotten! and 15,000 other great roles
We’re all afraid of when the day will come where Roald Dahl’s seemingly-endless well of inspiration runs dry. The newest version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory promises us that it won’t happen for a long while. Much like Matilda‘s mini-revolt a few years back, this West End import refreshes an immortal story by throwing every color on the wall. Flashy and brassy orchestrations of Charlie songs new and old, dynamic animatronics and setpieces – the musical does everything it can to bring that bright, sugar-coma-inducing magic from Dahl’s pens to your senses.
Miss Saigon – based on John Luther Long’s short story Madame Butterfly and Pierre Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème
- Opens: Spring 2017
- Cool people in it: Cameron Mackintosh, the heavy-hitting producer behind every hit musical you can think of
Miss Saigon has a long and winding history through literature and opera. Loti’s autobiographical novel, published in 1887, describes a naval officer’s affair with a Japanese geisha underneath a backdrop of a changing country. A little over a decade later, Long accounts a similar experience from his sister’s life. Both stories come together in Puccini’s famous opera Madama Butterfly. By the time the story had reached the big time, nearly 100 years after it was written, it had morphed into a muscular tragedy about star-crossed lovers in war-era Vietnam. The revival features Asian actors in commanding lead performances, a social sore point for Broadway theatre for years.
Featured image courtesy of TM RUG 1981