Discover Broadway shows based on other theatre

These works of theatre are inspired by older musicals, plays, variety shows, and more.

Rebecca VanderKooi
Rebecca VanderKooi

Inspiration for a play or musical can come from various places, even from the theatre. There are many shows on Broadway inspired by other stage works. Some are more obvious, such as & Juliet, which is inspired by Romeo & Juliet. Others are less so, like Moulin Rouge! The Musical, which takes inspiration from many places, including the La Bohème and La Traviata operas.

These shows and more repackage well-loved stories in unique ways, sometimes modernizing a piece, changing the setting, or even including the original writer as a character in the show. Theatre has the power to connect generations, communities, and cultures, and nothing says that more than a modern twist on a classic work.

Learn more about Broadway shows and the other works of theatre that inspired them, and get Broadway tickets today.

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& Juliet

If you've ever asked yourself, "What if Juliet didn't die at the end of Romeo & Juliet?", & Juliet has the answer. Based on Shakespeare's famous tragedy, & Juliet is anything but tragic. Finding Romeo dead is just the beginning of Juliet's story, as she travels to Paris with friends and finds a new lease on life and love.

William Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, are even characters in the musical, narrating and rewriting the Bard’s plot and performing in their new story.

Book writer David West Read (Schitt's Creek) came up with the new story and set it to Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin’s catalog of hits including “I Want it That Way” (The Backstreet Boys), “Oops!...I Did it Again” (Britney Spears), and “I Kissed a Girl” (Katy Perry).

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In 1926, Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote the script for a play called Brave Little Women, later named Chicago, for an assignment at Yale's drama school. The play was based on Watkins's reporting on the 1924 murder trials for Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Chicago is not a completely accurate account of the cases, but Watkins based Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly, Billy Flynn, and the other characters on individuals in the cases that took Chicago by storm.

This play has inspired many creative works, including a silent film version in 1927 and a film called Roxie Hart in 1942. The play also inspired the famous 1975 musical of the same name created by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse.

The Chicago musical adds another layer of theatrical inspiration, with its musical numbers structured like acts in a vaudeville variety show, a popular theatre form in the 1920s. The current Broadway production, which opened in 1996, has established itself as the longest-running musical revival on Broadway and combines murder, jazz, and show-stopping dance numbers for a one-of-a-kind performance.

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Merrily We Roll Along

The 1981 fan-favorite musical Merrily We Roll Along, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, is based on the 1934 play of the same name. The play, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, tells the story of Richard Niles, a 40-year-old playwright who achieves success by compromising his virtue. The play's unique style, starting at the end and moving backward over nine scenes, made it stand out.

The play inspired the musical Merrily We Roll Along. Initially, the show could have been a better success compared to previous Sondheim shows, and it closed after 16 performances and 52 previews. But thankfully, that wasn't the end of the story for the musical. Merrily We Roll Along received multiple rewrites and had various successful runs, including a London premiere in 2000 that won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Sondheim’s show centers not on a playwright but on composer Franklin Shepard and his two estranged friends, Charley Kringas and Mary Flynn. The musical ends by showing the three best friends before fame and success damaged their friendships. Merrily We Roll Along will have its first Broadway revival in the fall, following a hit Off-Broadway run starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez.

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is based on the same-named 2001 Baz Luhrmann film, which in turn was inspired by classical shows like La Bohème. The Tony-winning show is set at the turn of the 20th century, when Christian, a poor writer, falls in love with Satine, a cabaret actress with debilitating illness who’s already been promised to a duke. Their story is set to songs from the film, including “Come What May” and “Your Song,” plus mashups of many more pop hits.

Vaudeville, cabaret, and the can-can performances at the real Moulin Rouge nightclub all inspired the musical. Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème, which Luhrmann directed at the Sydney Opera House in 1993, was a vital source of the plot for Moulin Rouge! Like La Bohème, Moulin Rouge! is set in Paris and includes struggling artists and themes of love, illness, and death. The La Traviata opera, which also centers on a sickly courtesan, is another precursor to Moulin Rouge!

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The Wiz

Before there was the iconic 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie, there was the 1900 children's book by L. Frank Baum. And in between, there was a 1903 musical adaptation that enjoyed two years of Broadway success. Between them all, the broad strokes remain the same: a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion, and a young Kansas girl journey down the yellow brick road to get their greatest wishes.

So it goes, too, for The Wiz, the 1975 musical adapted from this tale. But this version reimagines the story as a vibrant celebration of Black culture and art. Last on Broadway in 1984, The Wiz returns in 2024 with Wayne Brady in the title role.

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Nowadays, it's hard to think of Cabaret without Kander and Ebb's iconic songs, like "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time," and "Wilkommen." But before there was a Cabaret musical, there was a play called I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, based on a book by Charles Isherwood about his experiences at a Berlin nightclub just as the Nazis were taking power.

Cabaret characters like Sally Bowles and Fraulein Schneider first appeared in I Am a Camera. Joe Masteroff adapted Van Druten's script (with Kander and Ebb on the score), changed the Christopher Isherwood character to Clifford Bradshaw, and the rest is history. The latest Cabaret revival (its fourth) takes place in spring 2024.

Check back for information on Cabaret tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Originally published on

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