All Articles
May 10, 2017

Top 15 Play to Musical Adaptations


With all the much deserved hoopla this awards season over Hello Dolly, it’s always a good reminder that the irrepressible busybody Dolly Gallagher Levi first appeared in The Matchmaker, Thornton Wilder’s play celebrating its 60th anniversary of its original publication. What are some other iconic musicals based off of plays? We have compiled a list of some Samuel French titles that may surprise you when you learn that they were the source for some well-known or otherwise musicals.

I Am A Camera by John Van Druten
Adapted into: Cabaret
In the words of the Herald-Tribune, the play “looks at life in a tawdry Berlin rooming house of 1930 with a stringently photographic eye. For the most part, it concerns itself with the mercurial and irresponsible moods of a girl called Sally Bowles. When we first meet her, she is a creature of extravagant attitudes, given to parading her vices, enormously confident that she is going to take life in her stride. She is fond of describing herself as an ‘extraordinary interesting person,’ and she is vaguely disturbing. As we get to know her, as we watch her make frightened arrangements for an illegal operation, seize at the tinseled escape offered by a rich and worthless American playboy, attempt to rehabilitate herself and fail ludicrously, we are more and more moved, more and more caught up in the complete and almost unbearable reality of this girl. [The author has] placed a character named Mr. Isherwood on the stage…He serves both as narrator and as principal confidant to Sally Bowles. He is the camera eye of the title, attracted to Sally, yet dispassionate about her.” Though Sally is the chief point of interest, the plight of the Jew in Germany in the early thirties is brought within focus in a few touching scenes. 3m, 4f.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond
Adapted into: Sweeney Todd (musical)
In this version of the old melodrama, Todd has some grounds for his nefarious activities: his wife was abducted and raped by the Judge and his daughter abandoned, while he himself was deported on a false charge. He returns to avenge his family, accompanied by a sea captain, Anthony, whose life he has saved. Anthony falls in love with a young girl, the Judge’s ward, who turns out to be Todd’s daughter. Todd, meanwhile, sets up with Mrs. Lovett, the pie maker, and provides her with fillings for her pies. He proceeds with his vengeful plans but the outcome is bitterly ironic. 8m, 3f.

Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Adapted into: Oklahoma!
This evocative play charting the rocky romance between headstrong farmgirl Laurey and cocky cowhand Curley in a tale of early America during the settlement of the midwest was the basis of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! Using the colorful vernacular of the period, Green Grow the Lilacs paints a picture of pioneer farm life with colorful characters and language, presenting a dramatic challenge to professionals and amateurs alike. 10m, 4f.

Liliom by Ferenc Molnar
Adapted into: Carousel
Liliom is a shiftless young bully in Budapest. He works intermittently as a barker for a merry go round and many servant girls fall victim to his charms. Among these girls is Julie, whom he eventually marries. Learning that he is about to become a father Liliom participates in a robbery to enhance his fortunes. But he is caught and stabs himself rather than submit to arrest. He is tried in the Magistrate’s court on high, but they see through him there. They know what repentance is in his heart though he is much too cocky to admit it. He is sentenced to a term of years in the purifying fires with the promise that after that sentence has been served he can go back to earth with a chance to do one good deed there. 17m, 5f.

The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
Adapted into: Hello, Dolly!
Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy merchant in 19th-century Yonkers, NY, decides to take a wife and employs a matchmaker, Mrs. Dolly Levi. Dolly subsequently becomes involved with two of Vandergelder’s clerks, several lovely ladies, and the headwaiter at an expensive restaurant where this swift farce runs headlong into hilarious complications. After everyone gets straightened out romantically, Vandergelder finds himself affianced to the astute Dolly Levi herself. 9m, 7f.

They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard
Adapted into: The Most Happy Fella
In the 1920’s, Napa Valley middle-aged wine-grower Tony wants to get married and decides to propose by letter to a waitress in San Francisco named Amy who waited on him once. He sends her a picture of his good looking young farmhand Joe instead of himself, which creates unforeseen complications in the lives and loves of these three ordinary yet complex people. 9m, 4f.

The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash
Adapted into: 110 in the Shade
At the time of a paralyzing drought in the West we discover a girl whose father and two brothers are worried as much about her potential future as an old maid as they are about their dying cattle. For the truth is, she is indeed a plain girl. The brothers try every possible scheme to marry her off, but without success. Nor is there any sign of relief from the dry heat, when suddenly from out of nowhere appears a picaresque, sweet-talking man with quite the sales pitch. Claiming to be a “rainmaker,” the man promises to bring rain, for $100. It’s a silly idea, but the rainmaker is so refreshing and persistent that the family finally consents, banging on big brass drums to rattle the sky. Meanwhile the rainmaker also turns his magic on the girl, and persuades her that she has a very real beauty of her own. She believes it, just as her father believes the fellow can actually bring rain. Rain does come, and so does love. 6m, 1f.

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets
Adapted into: Golden Boy (musical)
People are inclined to laugh at Joe, a moody young Italian with “cockeyed” notions. At heart a musician—he has a real talent for the violin—he longs to be “top man” in some other field. So he goes into the prizefighting racket and becomes surprisingly good at it. In each fight he becomes more and more brutish and finally in a big match he kills his opponent. With both hands broken and his spirit crushed, money and fame mean nothing to him. Not even Lorna, the girl who once gave him courage to face defeat, can lift him out of his despair. Driving madly through the night to forget everything, Joe and Lorna are kill
ed. 17m, 2f.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Adapted into: Raisin
Set on Chicago’s South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis, and matriarch Lena. When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama Lena dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. The Younger family’s heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration. 7m, 3f, 1b.

The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry
Adapted into: High Society
This Broadway hit starred Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, of the Philadelphia Lords, a headstrong and spoiled daughter of the privileged. Divorced from C.K. Dexter Haven, she is engaged to a successful young snob. A society weekly sends a reporter and female photographer to cover the wedding arrangements. Tracy finds herself growing interested in the reporter Mike Connor, and following the pre-wedding bash, they take a moonlight swim and are then surprised by Dexter and the fiancé. The following morning her intended smugly forgives her, enraging Tracy, who breaks off the engagement. Connor offers to marry her, but she turns him down and remarries Dexter, the real love of her life, after all. 9m, 6f.

Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
Adapted into: My Fair Lady
A brilliantly witty reworking of the classical tale of the sculptor Pygmalion, who falls in love with his perfect female statue, it is also a barbed attack on the British class system and a statement of Shaw’s feminist views. In Shaw’s hands, the phoneticist Henry Higgins is the Pygmalion figure who believes he can transform Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, into a duchess at ease in polite society. The one thing he overlooks is that his ‘creation’ has a mind of her own. 6m, 6f.

The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux, Maurice Valency
Adapted into: Dear World
The play is a kind of poetic and comic fable set in the twilight zone of the not-quite-true. At the Cafe Chez Francis, a group of promoters plot to tear up Paris in order to unearth the oil which a prospector believes he has located in the neighborhood. These grandiose plans come to the attention of The Madwoman of Chaillot who is ostensibly not normal in her mind but who is soon shown to be the very essence of practical worldly goodness and common sense. She sees through the crookedness of the prospector and insists that the world is being turned into an unhappy place by the thieves and those who are greedy for worldly goods and power. At a tea party attended by other “mad” women of Paris, she has brought together representatives of the despoilers of the earth and wreckers of its happiness, and has them tried and condemned to extermination. In a scene which mounts into the realms of high poetic comedy, she sends the culprits one by one, lured by the scent of oil and undreamed-of riches, into a bottomless pit which opens out of her cellar. The exodus of the wicked is accompanied by another and more beautiful miracle: Joy, justice and love return to the world again. 17m, 8f.

My Sister Eileen by Jerome Chodorov, Joseph Fields
Adapted into: Wonderful Town
The new play recounts only the twelve months’ period encompassed by the signing of a lease on a Greenwich Village basement apartment and the evacuation thereof, and a few of the amazing adventures that befell the two girls…an engaging, heart-warming play with exceptionally high comedy content. Eileen is the pretty one—the one who has stage aspirations and the homey personality that innocently invites passes from every man from 14 to 85 who has eyes in his head. Ruth is the plainer one, and her bent is for literature. Well, the two girls…land in the toils of Landlord Appopolous and the most distracting apartment you ever saw. Through their basement grating the swirling life of the village, its drunks and gamins, its hucksters and hustlers and occasionally its cops, seep, flow and sometimes come in an unwelcome deluge…The kitchenette is aptly described as a ‘nauseating nook.’ Blasting in the new subway cavern beneath rocks the building…Finally six officers of the Brazilian navy follow Ruth home, under certain mistaken impressions, and create something…only short of an international incident. 21m, 6f.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward
Adapted into: High Spirits
The smash comedy hit of the London and Broadway stages, this much-revived classic from the playwright of Private Lives offers up fussy, cantakerous novelist Charles Condomine, re-married but haunted (literally) by the ghost of his late first wife, the clever and insistent Elvira who is called up by a visiting “happy medium”, one Madame Arcati. As the (worldly and un-) personalities clash, Charles’ current wife Ruth is accidentally killed, “passes over”, joins Elvira and the two “blithe spirits” haunt the hapless Charles into perpetuity. 2m, 5f.

Merrily We Roll Along by Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman
Adapted into: Merrily We Roll Along (musical)
By means of a series of scenes shown in reverse chronological order, we are permitted to see the steps by which a young and ambitious playwright became merely a materialistic symbol of success. 35m, 22f.

The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Maurice Valency
Adapted into: The Visit (musical)
A wealthy woman returns to her debt ridden home town and offers a sum greater than they have ever imagined to help out. But there is a condition: she wants the life of a villager who years ago had caused her to be expelled from town in disgrace. Ringing denial of this absurd demand is followed by the gradual corruption of everyone in town. He is murdered and money is passed over his body to the town. The lady leaves with a fantastic entourage and with the coffin of her old lover. 25m, 5f, 2b or g.

Bonus Titles:

Vanities by Jack Heifner
Adapted into: Vanities: The Musical
A bittersweet comedy that is an astute, snapshot sharp chronicle of the lives of three Texas girls. In 1963, Joanne, Kathy, and Mary are aggressively vivacious cheerleaders. Five years later in their college sorority house, they are confronting their futures with nervous jauntiness. In 1974, they reunite briefly in New York. Their lives have diverged their friendship, which once thrived on assumption as well coordinated as sweater sets, is strained and ambiguous. Old time banter rings false. Their attempts at honest conversation only show they can no longer afford to have very much in common. 3f.

The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents
Adapted into: Do I Hear A Waltz?
Leona Samish, a single American woman of a “certain age” takes a long-planned European vacation from her job as a secretary and finds herself in a pensione in Venice, Italy. At a street market, she meets the handsome proprietor Renato DiRossi, entering into a casual flirtation which turns into an affair. Her complacency is jolted when she discovers he is married, has several children and is quite happy with the arrangement as is. Long-dormant frustrations and anger come to the surface as Leona faces the harsh reality of this new found infatuation and her own romantic notions of love. 5m, 5f.

Article Collaborators Include: Ben Coleman, Tyler Mullen, Chris Kam and Abbie Van Nostrand.