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Top 10 Plays Adapted from Novels

Top 10 Plays Adapted from Novels

Some stories can be adapted from one form to another and, in doing so, introduce an entirely new perspective. Adaptations can open our minds to ideas we’d never considered and reach new audiences. Stage adaptions of literature, though, hold the unique power to bring our favorite stories to life by bridging two of society’s major cultural platforms. We’ve gathered a list of titles that best exemplify the strength of theatre as a medium for the adaptation of novels.


A Boy Called Lizard by James J. Mellon, Scott DeTurk, Dennis Covington
Based on the novel Lizard, by Dennis Covington, this musical revolves around a boy named Lucius Sims. With his sea-green eyes more displaced than most people's and a nose deformed at birth, Lucius, or "Lizard", looks and feels like a freak due to his reptilian features. So when Callahan, a shoe salesman from up North arrives and claims to be his father, Lizard takes a chance. Believing that his father is dead, he escapes from his miserable life at the reformatory and into the madcap world of Callahan's traveling theater troupe and their ragtag production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. In his search to find a real "home," Lizard just might find a world in which he can truly be accepted and set his spirit free. 8m, 5f

John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night by Matt Pelfrey, John Ball
It's 1962. A hot August night lies heavy over the small town of Argo, Alabama. A dead white man is discovered and the local police arrest a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs. The police discover that their prime suspect is in fact a homicide detective from California. As it happens, Tibbs becomes the racially-tense community's single hope in solving a brutal murder that is turning up no witnesses, no motives, and no clues. 8m, 2f

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy
An electropop opera based on a scandalous slice of Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. Young and impulsive, Natasha Rostova arrives in Moscow to await the return of her fiancé from the front lines. When she falls under the spell of the roguish Anatole, it is up to Pierre, a family friend in the middle of an existential crisis, to pick up the pieces of her shattered reputation. 5m, 5f

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Dale Wasserman
A charming rogue contrives to serve a short sentence in an airy mental institution rather in a prison. This, he learns, was a mistake. He clashes with the head nurse, a fierce martinet. Quickly, he takes over the yard and accomplishes what the medical profession has been unable to do for twelve years; he makes a presumed deaf and dumb Indian talk. He leads others out of introversion, stages a revolt so that they can see the World Series on television, and arranges a rollicking midnight party with liquor and chippies. For one offense, the head nurse has him submit to shock treatment. The party is too horrid for her and she forces him to submit to a final correction a frontal lobotomy. 13m, 4f

A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santoriello, Charles Dickens
Two men in love with the same woman. Two cities swept up in revolution. One last chance for a man to redeem his wasted life and change the world. Based on Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities is a musical that focuses on the love triangle between young beauty Lucie Manette, French aristocrat Charles Darnay and drunken English cynic Sydney Carton - all caught in the clutches of the bloody French Revolution. 13m, 9f, 1 girl

Dead City by Sheila Callaghan
It's June 16, 2004. Samantha Blossom, a chipper woman in her 40s, wakes up one June morning in her Upper East Side apartment to find her life being narrated over the airwaves of public radio. She discovers in the mail an envelope addressed to her husband from his lover, which spins her raw and untethered into an odyssey through the city.... a day full of chance encounters, coincidences, a quick love affair, and a fixation on the mysterious Jewel Jupiter. Jewel, the young but damaged poet genius, eventually takes a shine to Samantha and brings her on a midnight tour of the meat-packing district which changes Samantha's life forever—or doesn't. This 90 minute comic drama is a modernized, gender-reversed, relocated, hyper-theatrical riff on the novel Ulysses, occurring exactly 100 years to the day after Joyce's jaunt through Dublin. 3m, 4f

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Jessica Swale
When Bathsheba Everdene inherits a farm from her uncle, no-one expects her to run it alone. But our spirited young heroine will not be deterred and eagerly takes up the gauntlet. She rises impressively to the challenges of sheep farming, but the trials of the heart are harder to overcome. Caught between a pair of suitors - the kind and dependable shepherd Gabriel Oak and the prosperous eligible bachelor William Boldwood, her choice seems hard enough. Then the dashing Sergeant Troy appears over the horizon, with a swagger in his step and a dangerous secret in his past. Who will she choose? 5m, 4f

The Graduate by Terry Johnson, Charles Webb, Buck Henry, Calder Willingham
This is the first play adaptation of the classic novel and cult film. Benjamin's got excellent grades, very proud parents and, since he helped Mrs Robinson with her zipper, a fine future behind him...A cult novel, a classic film, a quintessential hit of the 60s, now Benjamin's disastrous sexual odyssey is brought vividly to life in this world stage premiere production. 6m, 5f

Native Son by Paul Green, Richard Wright
The 1940 story of a young black man named Bigger Thomas for whom racism, poverty and ill treatment become so imbued in his psyche as to turn his South Side existence into hell itself. "Native Son" is one of the most thematically crucial and formatively complex American novels of the first half of the 20th century. It sold 250,000 copies within three weeks of its publication. But, all boiled down, it's the story of an impoverished and oppressed man trapped in the very depths of human existence and in a destiny defined and compelled by others. 15m, 14f

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Jethro Compton
When a young scholar from New York City travels west in search of a new life he arrives beaten and half-dead on the dusty streets of Twotrees. Rescued from the plains, the town soon becomes his home. A local girl gives him purpose in a broken land, but is it enough to save him from the vicious outlaw who wants him dead? He must make the choice: to turn and run or to stand for what he believes, to live or to fight; to become the man who shot Liberty Valance. 6m, 1f

We'd be remiss if we didn't also recognize the following two adaptations:

American Tales by Jan Powell, Ken Stone
American Tales features two classic American stories by Mark Twain and Herman Mellville. Set to "skillful and unusually thoughtful" (Variety) music, this musical played to sold out crowds in Los Angeles and was awarded the Kleban Award for excellence. Act I, The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton, is from Mark Twain's story of two people falling in love at a great distance with the aid of that brand-new invention, the telephone. Act II, Bartleby, the Scrivener, is dramatized from Herman Melville's slyly funny but ultimately tragic story. Building on the theme of human connections made and missed, this act takes a darker turn, looking at people who occupy the closest of quarters and yet don't really communicate at all. 4m, 1f

Madame Bovary by Adrienne Kennedy
The tragic, yet scintillating story of a woman who longed for a life she could never fully achieve. Emma Bovary is a woman who desires the illustrious and romantic world she has only read about in books or observed from afar. As this desire grows, Emma must seek to fulfill it, whatever the cost, in an ultimate quest to become the Madame Bovary of her wildest and most passionate dreams. Telling Emma's story through the eyes of her own daughter, Adrienne Kennedy brings a fresh and exciting approach to this classic novel. 8m, 4f

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