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Original London Cast

Musicals based on books

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 5 March 2020, Last Updated 12 October 2023

If you love theatre, then at the heart of it all you love stories. Whether they’re sung, spoken or read, sharing stories is at the heart of so much that we do. And so many of the fantastic theatre productions that you know and love just wouldn’t exist were it not for the books that inspired or informed them!

So take a look at our round-up of some of the best musicals that you may or may not know are based on books!


Did you know that before Cabaret was adapted into a musical by Kander & Ebb in 1966, it was a play called I Am A Camera, written in 1951? And that play was adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel, written by Christopher Isherwood in 1939.

So not only is Cabaret based on a book, but it’s based on a true story! Anglo-American writer Isherwood was living in Berlin himself in the 1930s and witnessed first-hand the fall of a city that had been a place full of havens for those who were queer or different.

Matilda The Musical

Matilda was one of Roald Dahl’s later books, coming out in 1988. It’s one of the most beloved children’s books worldwide, with sales reaching 17 million around the globe in 2018. Time magazine included Matilda in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time, saying it ‘may be Roald Dahl’s most compelling read for young people’.

The book has inspired children all over the world to read more, and the musical from Tim Minchin and the Royal Shakespeare Company has been delighting children and adults at the Cambridge Theatre since 2011.

Les Misérables

The Company in Les Mis. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench.

Did you know that Les Mis – before it was a musical, before it was a film, before you had One Day More playing in your head for weeks on end – was a book? Written in 1862, the book came not long after the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris that inspired the story. It was written by Victor Hugo, who also wrote The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame.

The book is darker than the musical – if you can imagine that. The Thénardiers do a lot more murdering and kidnapping, and throw out or sell their children – including Gavroche, who’s their son in the book. And apparently the deaths of the rebels are a lot longer and more torturous and bleak!

Phantom Of The Opera

The story of Christine and the Phantom was originally printed as a serial over five months in French newspaper Le Gaulois in the early 1900s. So you’d have to wait for the next week to find out what happened in the dramatic tale!

It’s based on a real rumour about the supposed haunting of the Palais Garnier opera house in 1880s Paris. Known only as the Phantom of the Opera, the ghost was linked to a scary story going around about a real human skeleton being used in a ballet production and blamed for a real infamous chandelier crash.

The underground lake beneath the opera house, however, is entirely real, and is apparently used by firefighters to practice swimming in the dark!

The Time Traveller’s Wife

Based on the Audrey Niffenegger’s internationally best-selling modern classic (and the book that I have cried most at in my entire life), this brand new British musical brings the complicated story of a man who jumps around in time, but is always trying to get back to his love.

The story is as beautiful as it is smartly written, and you experience a love story told in a totally different chronology. Plus, the songs have been written by Grammy Award winners Joss Stone and Dave Stewart, so it’s definitely worth a watch!



Long before the Apollo Victoria Theatre was all lit up in green, Glinda and Elphaba existed on the page!

It’s a bit of a trick question – you might think it’s taken from the 1900 classic The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, but it is in fact based on the 1955 novel Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West. Written by Gregory Maguire, the book is a dark twisted revisionist look at the characters of The Wizard Of Oz.

It’s the first book in a series – often called The Wicked Years series – which included Son Of A Witch, A Lion Among Men and Out Of Oz, all written in the 2000s. The book – like the musical – turns ideas of good and evil on their head, and re-frames wicked witch Elphaba as a misunderstood girl living in a despotic kingdom under the evil Wizard Of Oz.


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