5 Books, 1 Similarity: The Literate Musical

The Books:

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant Douglass Wallop

“The String of Pearls” Thomas Preskett Prest

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain

Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal Roy Horniman

Legally Blonde Amanda Brown


Les Misérables , Phantom of the Opera, Peter Pan, Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz, and so many musicals all share one important thing in common; they all had a literary start. Books are an amazing source of fodder for musicals, brought us some truly amazing classics like Ragtime and Man of La Mancha, and continue to bring us new musicals such as Matilda and The Color Purple. So this list honors some of the musical literary connections that might not be as well known but should definitely be recognized.


The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant

daMusical: Damn Yankees

Damn Yankees has a lot of similarities to another familiar devil dealing literary character named Faust, but the plot of the 1955 musical is actually based on Douglass Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. Joe Boyd wants the Washington Senators to win against the dreaded New York Yankees and is willing to make a deal with the shady Mr. Applegate (cough…cough… he’s the devil) to ensure his team’s victory. Throw in Joe’s doubts about the pricey deal he struck and a sexy siren named Lola and you have a darn interesting story. If you like the musical Damn Yankees, like Faustian stories, or if you hate the New York Yankees, you might want to give Douglass Wallop’s novel a read.   



“The String of Pearls”

Musical: Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

While a string of  pearls is the title object, it is a fair statement to say that this story is all about pies, delicious, horrible, pies. We’re entering cannibal territory because the musical and subsequent movie titled Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street started as the penny dreadful titled “The String of Pearls.” Both story and musical feature the similar plot of Sweeney Todd killing the customers that come into his barbershop, presumably after getting paid, and the local pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett using that free supply of “meat” in her shop. If you feel so inclined to read the story of Sweeney Todd in its entirety click here.

And if you’re interested in the musical version, check out Patti Lupone’s version of “The Worst Pies in London” below.



Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Musical: Big River

Mark Twain’s titular character Huck Finn has spawned music, films, books, anime, and a few musicals. One such musical is Big River. The connection between Big River and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is fairly obvious. Big River is the tale of Big Jim and Huck riding the river, learning about life, and coming through the muddy waters a little better off than when they left. Part of  what makes this musical version of Huck Finn amazing is a 2003 revival that featured a mixed cast of hearing and deaf actors both signing and speaking/signing the show.




Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal

Musical: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Here we have a musical and a book that both hope to answer the question, who doesn’t love a good comedy about a serial killer? Roy Horniman’s novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal is the basis for the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. While Israel Rank’s name might of changed to Monty Navarro from book to musical, the story revolves around the same premise. Monty decides to off members of his extended family in order to inherit an earldom he is ninth in line for. While plotting murders and ascending the ranks, Monty also has the fun task of choosing between two different but equally enticing women.

Enjoy some of the intrigue and humor as Monty, Sibella, and Phoebe’s love triangle is addressed in the song “I’ve Decided To Marry You”.




Legally Blonde

Musical: Legally Blonde

lbYes, most people are familiar with Elle Woods story of trials and victories at Harvard Law School as a movie starring the lovely Reese Witherspoon, but it actually began as a novel. Amanda Brown’s novel features a similar plot to the musical. Elle Woods follows college sweetheart, Warner Huntington III to law school in an attempt to prove she is a serious person and marriage material only to find out more about herself then she thought. However, there are some differences. The novel takes place at Stanford Law School while the musical takes place at Harvard Law School and the musical modernizes a page from the classic theater tradition by giving the classic Greek chorus a sorority makeover.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: 5 Books, 1 Similarity: The Literate Musical | Tinseltown Times

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