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A Literary Tour of Broadway

Les Miserables
The literary history of Broadway.

From one of the oldest running Broadway shows, to the newest hit-sensation, books are coming to life through dance and song on the Great White Way. Check out how some of Broadway’s biggest hits moved from page to stage.

The sensation that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway production Hamilton has turned heads across the country — many of whom would never consider seeing a Broadway show. Musicals are a niche form of entertainment, and most fans think of them as separate from, say, movies, music, and books. Yet, these categories are often more entwined than we think.

Like many of Hollywood’s most successful films, myriad Broadway shows are based upon or inspired by books. As committed #AffiniaBookworms, we’re exploring the histories and legacies of three of Broadway’s most beloved and successful adaptations from books.

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

Wicked is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and tells the alternate history of Oz, the lives of the two witches Glinda and Elphaba. Spanning a pre and post-Dorothy timeline, the book was adapted into its current musical form in 2003, under the direction of Joe Mantello and Universal Pictures.

The original production starred Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel (of Frozen’s “Let It Go” fame) as Elphaba. Nominated for ten Tony Awards and winning three, it’s currently the eleventh longest-running Broadway production ever, and has been staged everywhere from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago to London’s West End.

Today, Wicked finds its home in New York City’s Gershwin Theatre. Though this show is a relative newcomer compared to the others on our list, it has made an edelible mark on Broadway. IMDB reports that a TV miniseries by ABC is in development, and a film adaptation has been in talks since 2004.

The Phantom of the Opera

Based on the 1909-10 serialized novel Le Fantome de l’Opera by French author Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera details the young opera singer Christine’s love triangle with childhood sweetheart Raoul and the mysterious Phantom, a musical ingenue who lurks in the bowels of the Paris Opera.

Phantom was adapted into the 1986 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wanted to create a romantic production and believed Phantom’s story formed an ideal foundation. Phantom would eventually become the longest-running Broadway play in history, as well as the second longest-running musical in London’s West End. By 2011, it had played in 145 cities across 27 countries, with permanent productions based in New York’s Majestic Theater and in London.

The Phantom of the Opera and its adaptations have remained consistently popular (even before Webber’s musical setting). The 2004 film adaptation, starring Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, and Emmy Rossum persists as one of the more popular romantic dramas of the early 2000s, and brought the musical numbers themselves into the mainstream.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables — commonly shorthanded as Les Mis — is perhaps the most well-known and popular of the three. Victor Hugo’s original 1862 French novel is widely regarded as one of the greatest literary achievements of the nineteenth century due to its deft exploration of sociopolitical themes through a diverse cast of characters.

Already having captured the Western imagination for nearly 120 years, Les Mis was adapted into a French concept album by director Peter Farago. Cats producer Cameron Mackintosh then commissioned an English language production, which would open in 1985 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It remains the longest-running musical in West End history.

Eventually, Les Mis premiered on Broadway, where it ran from March 1987 to May 2003 as the fifth longest-running production in Broadway history — its current revival is housed in New York’s Imperial Theatre. Today, Les Mis remains a fixture of the entertainment industry, having most recently been adapted into the 2012 blockbuster film with an all-star cast, including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Russell Crowe.

For assistance with tickets or NYC information, please contact our Metro Concierge at or by calling 646-733-2901.


(Main image credit: Aska Ticket/flickr; 2nd image credit: SUPERADRIANME/flickr; 3rd image credit: Aska Ticket/flickr)