Theatre has been adapting books since time immemorial.  Many famous plays, whether musicals, dramas, or comedies, are based on books. Successful theatrical adaptations convey the essence of the story, even if the script differs slightly from the book. Going by both, the number of first-time productions and revivals we see every year, adapting plays from popular books seems to be a recipe for success.

This is a list of 10 famous plays that you may not know were adapted from books.

01

Cabaret

This ever-green musical is based on the novel, Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. The original 1996 Broadway Musical won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The book is written as a series of six connected short stories and novellas. While the book tells the story from Isherwood’s perspective, in the play a character by the name of Cliff Bradshaw replaces him. The story, set in 1930s Berlin, describes a group of people whom the narrator meets during the rise of the Nazis. Nazism is an important theme of the play and the book, as all the characters, in one way or another, are affected by it.

Buy the book here.

02

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

The play is adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. It was performed on West End and on Broadway, and both productions won multiple Olivier and Tony awards, including Best Play in both.

The novel is written in the first person while the play is presented as the narrator reading his own writing, which gives it a play-in-a-play effect. The story is set in a small town in the U.K., where an autistic 15-year old Christopher Boone investigates the murder of a neighbour’s dog. As the mystery unravels, he learns of his father’s secrets which cause him to go on a solo journey.

Buy the book here.

03

The Color Purple

The musical is based on the ground-breaking novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and it won the award for Best Actress in a Musical.
The Color Purple is considered an all-time great in literature. Set in the first half of the 20th Century Georgia, the story focuses on a young black girl, Celie. She is repeatedly raped by a man she calls ‘father’, her children are taken away from her, and she gets tricked into a bad marriage. It is a beautiful story of Celie discovering her own strength.

Buy the book here.

04

Camelot

The musical is based on the novel, The Once and Future King by T. H. White. The original 1960 Broadway musical won 4 Tony Awards.
The story is a retelling of the classic tale of King Arthur, who was tutored by the wizard Merlyn to prepare for the Dark Ages. The story opens in the midst of a battle that has destroyed Camelot, and subsequently, through flashbacks, takes us back to the events that led to its destruction. It is a bewitching fantasy, filled with adventure, romance, and magic.

Buy the book here.

05

War Horse

The play is based on the novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. The original 2007 production was nominated for six Olivier awards and won two.
Set just before World War I, War Horse is a story of the bond between a boy, Albert, and his horse, Joey. When his father sells Joey to the army, Albert is heartbroken. A Lieutenant Nicholls promises Albert he will take care of his horse. When Albert learns that Nicholls has been killed, he lies about his age and enlists in the army to search for Joey.

Buy the book here.

06

Jekyll and Hyde

The musical is based on the novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It originally premiered in 1990 in Houston, embarked on a national tour in 1995, and debuted on Broadway as a musical in 1997.
This is the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll who experiments on himself with a serum he creates. He turns into Edward Hyde, an evil murderer. While initially, Jekyll manages to retain control, Hyde gradually takes over and murders many people. Through the story, Jekyll continuously struggles to stop Hyde.

Buy the book here.

07

Crime and Punishment

The play is adapted from the classic Russian novel, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The musical was originally produced for Broadway in 1947 and has been revived multiple times since.
The protagonist, Raskolnikov, lives in extreme poverty and is a former law student. Due to extenuating circumstances, he commits multiple murders and a burglary, but subsequently feel guilty for his crimes. This is the story of his repentance and ultimate redemption.

Buy the book here.

08

Wicked

The hit musical is adapted from the novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The 2003 original Broadway production was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won three.
The novel is an alternate telling of the classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and is told from the witch’s  perspective. The story begins with Dorothy’s arrival into Munchkinland and is centred around Elphaba, who unwittingly ends up becoming the Wicked Witch of the West, an unfair moniker. Contrary to Baum’s work,  both Maguire’s novel and the play, contain instances of adult language and violent events and hence are not suitable for children.

Buy the book here.

09

The Kite Runner

The play is adapted from the novel of the same name by Khaled Hosseini and originally premiered in 2009 at San Jose. The story begins in 1960s Kabul and follows the lives of Amir and Hassan, two local Afghan boys, master and server respectively. Circumstances and situations lead them to have a complex friendship. Amir and his father escape Afghanistan after it was invaded by Russia, but Hassan is not so lucky. Years later, Amir returns to his homeland and rights his wrongs.

Buy the book here.

10

A Christmas Carol

The play is adapted from the novella of the same name by Charles Dickens. It is a one-man stage performance and initially premiered in 1987 before it got picked up for Broadway in 1991.
The entire story takes place on Christmas Eve, in London. Ebenezer Scrooge is an old greedy miser who hates Christmas. At night, he is visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Marley and the other ghosts tell him of the evils of greed and urge him to become a better person.

Buy the book here.

Have you seen any of these plays or read any of these books? Do you know any other plays that have been adapted from books? Share with us in the comments.

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit loves stories, be it in any form- print, media or theatre. After reading Angels and Demons, he fell in love with books, especially suspense, thriller, and fantasy. He is a big fan of Harry Potter series. He quit his engineering career to become a writer and currently works with The Curious Reader. Apart from writing he also loves filmmaking, photography, traveling and cooking. You can reach him on Instagram.