Novels That Would Be Great On Stage

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One thing I miss most about life before the pandemic is theater. I miss going to the theater with the sense of anticipation just before the curtain rises. I miss knowing that I shared that anticipation with the rest of the audience as well. I miss reading reviews and planning what I want to see next. So I thought I’d make a wishlist of books that I think would be great onstage someday, if/when we can go back to the theater. Some of these I imagine as musicals, others as straight plays, but I’m flexible about that.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid– Since this is written in the form of interviews it would be very easy to translate to theatrical dialogue (or monologues). They could also have the songs presented as if it were a bio-jukebox musical (ala Jersey Boys or Beautiful) but with a fictional band. The lyrics to Daisy Jones and The Six’s songs are at the end of the novel, so it’ s just a matter of finding someone to write the music to accompany them.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders– I just finished reading this and the whole time I was thinking how theatrical it felt with the chorus of voices. It has the potential to feel very much like parts of Our Town or The Spoon River Anthology with a cast of dead people in a graveyard, but that’s alright.

Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– I’m sort of surprised that this hasn’t been tried before. There were two attempts to film it, and neither was very successful at recreating the Gothic claustrophobia of the novel. I think film might be the wrong medium for a performance of this. The single setting seems to lend itself to the stage and the role of Grandmother is a great one for an over 60 actress. But I suppose that the fact that much of the cast would need to be composed of young kids dealing with disturbing content could make it rather challenging.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter– I imagine this beginning in a very intimate setting with Fevvers sitting in her dressing room (onstage) talking about her past. But as things go on, what we see expands and becomes more fantastical, and Fevvers becomes integrated with the action rather than just a narrator.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo- The book is already a novel in verse those verses could be the lyrics for songs. The music could be influenced by the racial/ethnic backgrounds of the characters. The main character, Xiomara, could narrate much of it, and the music could grow more complex as Xiomara’s poetic voice gains confidence.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim– This book already made a beautiful film, but I can also see it working really well onstage. It has a single primary location (the early scenes in England can take place as a prologue on a limited set, which would emphasize everything about England that the characters need to escape). One challenge might be how to bring that sense of outdoor freshness to an indoor theater, but I suppose an outdoor, socially distanced production is possible even now…

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett– This novel was made into a film, but I think the film suffered for the same reasons it could work well onstage: it has a single location and a theatrical subject matter. An opera singer, a Japanese businessman and guests at a party at a South American embassy are taken hostage by rebels. In this situation, which drags out over time, they realize that music may be their only common language. The subject matter lends itself to an intimate chamber musical, or even a play with music. Onscreen it seemed too stagey, but onstage it could be beautiful.

What do you think of my list? Are there any books that you’d love to see adapted for the stage?

11 thoughts on “Novels That Would Be Great On Stage

  1. Let’s see … TBH, I wrote the comment late at night after having breezed thru your post on my device earlier in the day. I haven’t actually read any of these. For Flowers in the Attic, I know the premise, all my girlfriends were reading it in high school, I’ve read excerpts, seen the movie, and I agree, the claustrophobic nature of it would make a terrific play, and the way it can build an incredible amount of tension with just a tiny cast of characters. Sort of like a lifeboat story.

    Ditto Lincoln in the Bardo. Haven’t read it, but have read positive reviews and it sounds like it would adapt well to stage.

    I also love what you envision about the musical scores for these.

    I love Our Town and I love what a play can do with multiple voices and the sense of time passing. I also like quick, funny, twisty musical comedies and I think nearly all of P.G. Wodehouse’s books would make great ones if they haven’t already been adapted for stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a musical called By Jeeves that was based on the work of PG Wodehouse. I haven’t seen it yet. but it’s available to watch online on youtube if you do a search for it.

      I think that the stage can do some wonderful things with elements of tension and humor. I think being in an audience with other people and having a similar/same reaction to them to something onstage is a bonding experience that I really miss.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An adaptation of The Enchanted April at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre would be heavenly. It would work as a musical too. I remember reading Flowers For Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico and thinking it would make a fantastic musical and some years later, it happened (nothing to do with me, of course). I would now love to see Cold Comfort Farm adapted as a musical.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: New Year Reflections | Fran Laniado- Author

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