Check out these Broadway and Off-Broadway shows based on books
Learn about the novels and memoirs making their way from the page to the stage this season.
There's simply no comfort like cozying up with a good book and getting lost in the story, forgetting about the outside world while you're immersed in the world within the pages. In that way, reading is like theatre: Live shows also allow an escape from everyday life for a while.
When you're in a theatre, you can let the sets, costumes, and actors transport you into an entirely different place or time. So it's the perfect storm when the two come together — when a book you've read gets adapted into a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, and the world the author's constructed (and you, too, have imagined in your head while reading) gets created and performed for real, right in front of your eyes.
Books have long been the inspiration for plays and musicals, and this theatre season is no exception — books are the source material for many famous Broadway shows you can see now. Classic novels and new bestsellers alike are being brought alive on New York's stages. See if your favorite book is coming to Broadway this season — or find your next great read after seeing these stories on stage!
Most people know that the Aladdin musical was adapted from a Disney film, but did you know that the film was itself adapted from a centuries-old folk tale? The story of Aladdin first appeared in an 18th-century European translation of One Thousand and One Nights, the classic collection of Middle Eastern folk tales collected from as early as the 8th century. Aladdin wasn't in the original manuscript, but French translator Antoine Galland added it after hearing it from a Syrian storyteller, Hanna Diyab.
The story has since become one of the most famous folk tales in the book, partly due to its pickup by Disney in 1992. Much of the story remained unchanged from its source material for the Aladdin movie and musical: after finding a magic lamp with a wish-granting genie inside, Aladdin uses it to transform himself from a street-dweller into a noble prince, and he uses his new status to win the hand of a princess and defeat an evil sorcerer — characters we now know as Jasmine and Jafar.
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Hamilton, of course, is based on real American history, as experienced by former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and fictionalized by Lin-Manuel Miranda. But Miranda was inspired to write the musical after reading Ron Chernow's biography of the Founding Father, simply titled Alexander Hamilton. He even asked Chernow to be a historical consultant on Hamilton, and Chernow aided the writing process for six years.
So now that his hip-hop treatment of Hamilton's life and career has won 11 Tony Awards, Miranda has Chernow and Alexander Hamilton to thank! The Hamilton book, published in 2004, was a success in its own right even before the Hamilton musical made it famous: Chernow won the first-ever George Washington Book Prize and was nominated for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award in biography for his work.
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was written as a play from the start (though, like any other play, you can buy a copy bound like a book), so the story isn't "based on a book," per se. But the characters are, as audiences first fell in love with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the rest of the Wizarding World in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series.
These characters — plus many others like Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, and some brand-new characters — all have a major presence in Cursed Child, though the main characters are Harry's son Albus Severus and Draco's son Scorpius.
Just after Harry sends Albus off to Hogwarts for the first time, picking up where the last Harry Potter book left off, Albus and Scorpius become fast friends and end up going on a time-traveling adventure to right some wrongs from Harry's time at school. The pair, along with Harry and his former schoolmates, travel through multiple moments first created in the books — and some all-new scenarios that we won't spoil!
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's murderous musical is based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. But the character of Sweeney Todd, a barber who uses his profession to kill unsuspecting clientele, actually first appeared in Victorian literature. The 1840s story The String of Pearls was the first piece of literature to introduce the character; it was a "penny dreadful," or a sensational story published in weekly installments. Bond later beefed up Todd's backstory, and Sondheim set it to music, creating the Tony-winning show of thrilling proportions.
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Nicholas Sparks's debut novel, The Notebook, began his career as one of the most beloved romance novelists of the modern day. The story of lovers Allie and Noah, inspired by his wife's grandparents, and their decades-long romance also became a hit film in 2004. Now, The Notebook has gotten the stage musical treatment, coming to Broadway in 2024 with an original score by Ingrid Michaelson. Bring tissues!
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Did you know S. E. Hinton was only 15 when she started writing The Outsiders? Her now-classic novel, taught in countless schools and adapted into a cult classic film alongside Francis Ford Coppola, remains a beloved coming-of-age story more than 55 years after its release. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders follows a gang of teenaged "greasers" who have little to rely on but each other, finding hope in their brotherhood when they can't get it anywhere else. The story is now a folk musical with songs by Jamestown Revival, on Broadway in spring 2024.
The Wiz is a rare triple threat: This all-Black adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is preceded by a book, a movie, and another musical. But L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's book is the one that started it all. The now-classic tale of Dorothy, who gets swept out of Kansas and onto a journey across Oz with a scarecrow, lion, and tin man, gets a makeover as a celebration of Black culture in this musical retelling. First on Broadway in 1975, The Wiz comes back down the yellow brick road in spring 2024.
Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen wrote this circus-themed novel in 2006 as part of National Novel Writing Month, and it went on to become a critically acclaimed bestseller. Gruen explored the dark underbelly of the circus, telling the story of a young man who runs away with the circus only to become entangled with a married acrobat and witness mistreatment of the animals. Can he change things? You can read the book to find out — or see the high-flying musical adaptation on Broadway in 2024.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West has so many gripping plot twists, you could finish the book in one short day. But if you've seen Wicked, you know that, as Frank Maguire's book is the basis for the blockbuster musical.
Maguire took significant liberties from L. Frank Baum's classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to tell a story centered on Elphaba, the green-skinned, magical outcast that took up a quest to expose the Wizard as a fraud and was eventually dubbed the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire's tale is markedly more adult than Baum's family-friendly book, adding violence, sex, and profanity.
The Wicked musical struck a balance between the two, retaining the basic, edgy plot and complex exploration of good and evil, while taking out enough adult content to keep the musical suitable for young audiences. That balance proved just right, as the musical quickly became popular upon its 2003 premiere and is still defying gravity at the Gershwin Theatre.
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Past shows based on books
The above shows are just a few plays and musicals that have books as their basis. Did you know these recent shows were based on beloved novels, too? Learn more about them below — perhaps a recent favorite show of yours has a novel you can put on your TBR list to relive the thrill now that the show has closed.
Black No More
George S. Schuyler's Harlem Renaissance-era novel has gotten the musical treatment 90 years after its release. Its full title is Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, AD 1933-1940 (shortened to Black No More for the musical) and is considered one of the earliest works of Afrofuturism, a genre that explores the effects of technology on Black life.
Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter has written all-new music for the story of Max Disher (Brandon Victor Dixon), a Black man who learns of a new machine that turns Black people white. Its creator, Dr. Junius Crookman (Trotter), says his machine will "solve the American race problem," but Max learns after using the machine that the racist people in his town will always seek somewhere to direct their hate, even if it means undermining people who seem to look like them.
Between the Lines
This 2012 book by internationally bestselling author Jodi Picoult was her first young adult novel, and also marked her first writing collaboration with her daughter, Samantha van Leer. The two teamed up to create Between the Lines, a story about a teenager named Delilah, who is an outcast both at home and at her new school in a new city. She finds comfort in her favorite fairytale book (also called Between the Lines), but neither her mother nor her classmates understand her attachment to it, distancing her even more from them. Delilah's life takes a turn when the book's prince comes alive and talks to her, but now she has a new challenge: separating reality from fiction.
This award-nominated fantastical tale was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Bestseller, and a Between the Lines musical had its world premiere at the Tony Kiser Theater.
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table dates back to the 15th century, and various authors and storytellers have adapted it since. For Camelot, a musical about the rise and fall of Arthur's utopian title kingdom, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe looked to a more recent source: the 1958 novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White. He collected multiple tales about the mythical king and put them all into one book.
Two years later, in 1960, the Camelot musical hit the stage with all the famous characters from the novel, including Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and the knight Sir Lancelot. Tony Award winner Andrew Burnap, Tony nominee Phillipa Soo, and Jordan Donica took on these roles in the latest Camelot revival, which featured an updated script by Aaron Sorkin.
Life of Pi
Yann Martel's 2001 novel Life of Pi follows a teenage boy, the titular Pi, and his battle for survival after a shipwreck alongside four animals: a tiger, orangutan, hyena, and zebra. The story has it all: adventure, animals, and ideas about spirituality and philosophy that will make you think long after you shut the book. The stage adaptation adds mesmerizing stagecraft and puppetry to that list.
The Life of Pi play first won over audiences in London, earning five Olivier Awards including Best New Play. Audiences also know the story from the Oscar-winning 2012 film adaptation. However, the book is where it all began.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Mischief Theatre Company's play sees a fictional theatre troupe stage J. M. Barrie's 1904 play Peter Pan — well, try to. Nonstop comedy ensues as the troupe weathers blunder after blunder mid-show. The story of the troupe is fully original, but Peter Pan Goes Wrong wouldn't exist without the original Peter Pan, which Barrie also released as a novel in 1911. Thanks to popular adaptations from Disney and more, Peter Pan has become a beloved fairytale.
Pictures From Home
Pictures From Home isn't based on a traditional novel or memoir, but on a photo book. In the late 1980s, photographer Larry Sultan decided to tackle his most personal subject yet: his parents. When he turned his lens on their picturesque life and interviewed them, he uncovered the secrets and imperfections beneath their facade, learning anew about the people he'd known all his life. Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, and Zoë Wanamaker play the Sultan family on Broadway, and the show features actual photographs from Sultan's collection.
Ever wondered what comedian Sarah Silverman was like as a child? The title of her Off-Broadway show provides one hint, as does her memoir of the same name. Released in 2010, Silverman's autobiography The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee includes stories about her childhood, including how her parents encouraged her to develop her satirical, uncensored brand of comedy from a young age.
As the book progresses, readers essentially watch Silverman grow up, discover her comedic influences, and create a public persona that sort of reflects her real self. In 2020, Silverman teamed up with playwright Joshua Harmon and the late composer/lyricist Adam Schlesinger to turn her memoir into a brand-new musical, which premiered in April 2022 with Atlantic Theater Company.
The Kite Runner
It took a year after publication for Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel The Kite Runner to soar to the top of bestseller lists, but once it finally became a New York Times bestseller in 2005, it didn't leave that list for two years. Though the book was met with some controversy for its portrayal of war-torn Afghanistan, that didn't stop it from winning the South African Boeke Prize in 2004 and being voted the Reading Group Book of the Year for 2006 and 2007.
The story follows the young Amir, who as a child, fails to prevent a horrific act from being committed against his best friend Hassan, ending their friendship. Twenty years later, Amir is living in America and learns of a chance to make amends with Hassan, which involves returning to his home country, now under Taliban rule. The Kite Runner was first adapted into a play in 2007, and after being produced throughout North America and Europe, the show made its Broadway debut in July 2022.
The Little Prince
Since its 1943 publication, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic children's book, The Little Prince, has become one of the bestselling and most translated books in history, with about 140 million copies sold worldwide in 301 languages. That's a fitting fate for a novel that itself depicts a far-flung adventure, though the titular prince travels even beyond Earth and all throughout the galaxy.
The book takes place in the Sahara Desert, where the Little Prince comes upon a pilot who crash-landed. Over the course of eight days, he tells the pilot all about his travels, which taught him about human nature, loneliness, friendship, and the value of holding onto a childlike whimsy. Like the book, the stage adaptation of The Little Prince — in which the prince's travels are brought to life with acrobatics, dance, and video — has made it to countries all over the world and most recently landed at the Broadway Theatre from March to May 2022.
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera musical is famous on its own, having been performed all over the world and being the longest-running Broadway show ever. But did you know that the show is based on a novel?
The Phantom of the Opera was first published in 1910 by the French author Gaston Leroux, who based his novel on a real fire in the Paris Opera House combined with rumors of ghosts haunting the building. The ghost became the titular Phantom, a living but deformed person with supernatural powers who lives in the opera house. He coaches a rising opera star, Christine Daaé, so well that she becomes the opera's star singer, but the Phantom becomes possessive over her when she falls for her childhood friend Raoul. Christine is caught between the two and must figure out how to escape the Phantom with her life, and without getting the opera house destroyed.
The book was moderately successful in its time, but when Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted The Phantom of the Opera into a musical in 1986, Leroux's work earned a firm place in literary and theatrical history.
The Shark Is Broken
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws has gone down as a classic — albeit after scaring tourists the summer it came out — but the story of a shark who terrorizes a New England beach town first splashed onto the scene as a novel. Peter Benchley wrote it in 1974 based on the true exploits of a Long Island shark fisherman. The Jaws book got lukewarm reviews, but the film is one of the greats.
The Shark Is Broken is based on that film, giving audiences a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the drama that brewed among its three lead actors. Benchley’s novel doesn’t directly factor in, but without it, Jaws would have never made waves.
The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black is done haunting New York audiences, but its source material, a gothic horror novel by Susan Hill, has been haunting readers since 1983. The book takes place years after an English lawyer named Arthur Kipps encountered the shadowy title ghost, and her terrifying presence hasn't left his mind since. He finally decides to write down his encounters with the Woman in Black in order to banish her from his mind for good. But first, he must face head-on the thoughts of her that have tormented him for years: how he first encountered her at a funeral for a mysterious widow in the town of Crythin Gifford; how she seemed to cause unexplainable noises, events, and appearances in his life; and how the townspeople won't tell him anything about her.
The stage adaptation of Hill's story is the second-longest-running show in London's West End, and now New York audiences can experience the chilling tale in an immersive production at the McKittrick Hotel.
To Kill a Mockingbird
It's one of the most well-known books in American literary history. It's a staple of middle school, high school, and college curricula. It's a story about racism and the loss of childhood innocence that remains strikingly timeless more than 60 years after its publication. And now, it's on stage: To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee's novel became an instant classic when she published it — her only published novel until just before her death in 2016 — in 1960. Set in 1930s Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by six-year-old Scout Finch, whose father Atticus is a lawyer defending an innocent Black man, Tom Robinson, in a rape trial. She witnesses her neighbors fling racist hatred at Tom and equal vitriol at Atticus, who tries to maintain that they're good people deep down. Scout thinks back on childhood memories to try and make sense of her father's point of view and all the hate she's seeing.
Aaron Sorkin, who adapted Lee's story for Broadway, keeps Scout as the narrator and places the trial at the center of the story, and his production was met with consistent acclaim from 2018 to 2022.
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