Reading List: 10 Books On Broadway!

Have you ever wondered where the inspiration for a musical comes from? If you didn’t know, they are often from books that are right at your local library and have been in circulation for decades! Gaston Leroux Phantom of the Opera has been haunting readers since 1909 while Alain Boubil’s Les Miserables bring to life the characters of the book of the same name, first published in 1862.

Audiences love seeing stories they recognize and resonate with presented in new and flashier lights (gobos and strobes often includes). However, it’s important to know where some of out favorite song-and-dance numbers come from and the story behind the song. Perhaps next time you’ll be able to read it before you see it!

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1. Wicked, Stephen Schwartz & Winnie Holzman

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Ever wonder where the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda got their start? What happened Pre-DG (Dorothy Gale)? This musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1996 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguires book shows us Oz through the eyes of two unlikely friends, Elphaba and Galinda. This novel itself is based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, which also was adapted into the well-loved Judy Garland film — and multiple musicals!

2. Jane Eyre, Paul Gordon & John Caird

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Based on Charlotte Brönte’s 1847 novel of the same name, this gothic retelling follows the life of Jane Eyre. Jane makes a life for herself after being orphaned and forsaken by her family, teaching and eventually working at Thornfield, the estate of Edward Rochester. A tale of love, tragedy, loss, and the enduring human spirit, this musical will strike a chord with fans of the novel.

3. Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber

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The Jellicle Ball that we get from Lloyd Webbers Cats finds it’s inspiration in T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Cats (1939). Favorites like Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, Grizabella, Rum Tum Tugger, and Mr. Mistoffelees are based on cats featured in this poem and amalgamations from Eliot’s work. So Cats becomes not only a great excuse for some 80s-style spandex, but a change to dive into poetry surrounding some of our favorite household companions.

4. Matilda, Dennis Kelly & Ted Minchin

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Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a little girl who loved to read, discovered she had some super powers, and didn’t quite fit in found it’s home on Broadway in 2013. Originally premiered in the West End, Kelly & Minchin breathe new life into Matilda, the Wormwoods, Miss Honey, Bruce, and Miss Trunchbull. The musical’s content is appropriate for kids and adults alike, but let’s face it — “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!”

5. A Tale of Two Cities, Jill Santoriello

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Charles Dickens is no stranger to Broadway. Beginning with Oliver Twist’s transformation into the well-loved musical Oliver!, Dickens’ complex stories and close examinations of the human experience have resonated with readers. Blending elements of operatic presentation within the musical, this piece is comparable to the style of Les Mis. However, it didn’t have the same staying power and is largely considered a flop. But with beautiful and intricate music paired with a story that has stood the test of time, it’s worth both a listen and a read.

6. Little Women, Jason Howland, Mindi Dickstein, & Allan Knee

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Luisa May Alcott brightened the lives of many young women with her autofiction novel Little Women. The story focuses on the four March sisters and their different ways of existing in the world over the passage of time from childhood to womanhood. The Original Broadway Cast starred newly-famous Millie star Sutton Foster in the role of tomboy Jo, and now boasts a musical theatre standard for many young female performers: “Astonishing.”

7. Carrie, Dean Pitchford & Michael Gore

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No one thought they could do it, but they did it. Pitchford & Gore turned Stephen King’s novel of the same name into a musical. The story followed Carrie, a young girl with a strict religious upbringing who finds out she has special telekinetic powers. Though a flop, this has become a cult classic: including both the shower scene and a blood-drenched prom — and it has an amazing musical score to back it up. If you’re new to King’s writing, this is a good place to start!

8. Jekyll & Hyde, Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Briscusse, & Steve Cuden

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Most high school English classes require students to read Louis Stevenson’s Victorian thriller The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Did you know that this well-known scary story and Broadway both have David Hasselhoff in common? This version of the story delves deeper into the idea of duty to family, romance, and the duality of human nature. The story is just that, a story and a quick read — definitely worth picking up before listening to Wildhorn’s engaging and gripping musical score.

9. Lestat, Elton John, Bernie Taupin, & Linda Woolverton

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Vampires are all the rage these days, and based on their lifespans — for a while now. Based on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, we follow famous vampire Lestat. The Original Broadway Cast featured Carolee Carmello as Lestat’s mother and later companion. An unlikely pairing in Elton John, but as the show states and the character demands: “I am the Vampire Lestat, and I will live forever.”

10. Drood, Rupert Holmes

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Another Dickens tale! The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Dickens’ final novel — and remains unfinished. Taking that into account, the musical has multiple endings, to be voted upon by the audience members. Who is behind Drood’s mysterious disappearance? Will the audience find the culprit? A great read and tale if you like to choose-your-own-ending and let your imagination soar.

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Other musicals that have been transformed from text include: 42nd Street, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Bridges of Madison County, Dracula, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Man of La Mancha, Once On This Island, Ragtime, State Fair, The Three Musketeers, A Very Potter Musical, The Wiz, The Woman in White, Wonderland, Zorro, and MANY more! These books cover a variety of themes/topics, age ranges, world views, and handles on reality (or rather, unreality).

If you’re interested in finding out more about this topic, the internet is also a good place to start as Wikipedia has a list for everything, including: Musicals based on Novels, Musicals based on Film (Bring It On!, Xanadu, Newsies), Musicals based on Comics (Annie, Peanuts, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark), and lists of every musical ever written organized just about any way you could fancy (year, title, authors/composers, etc)!

So “ease on down the road” to you local library to explore your next crossover favorite! 

Leave a comment below with your favorite book-turned-musical!

Massachusetts Digital Treasures

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(South Hadley view from Holyoke: 1894 – Photo courtesy of MA Digital Treasures) 

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) brings together libraries, archives, and museums around the country through a massive digital archive system. These archives are available to anyone with internet access. It’s a resource that provides books, images, historical records, and audiovisual materials. Conceptualized in 2010, the creation of the DPLA took two years.

Similar to the DPLA, we here in Massachusetts have  a more local source for archival history and digital resources: The Massachusetts Digital Treasures Project. The project was a collaborative effort made by the Central and Western MA Automated Resource Sharing System, and the Central and Western MA Regional Library Systems. Initiated in 2006, it began as a pilot program with a headquarters in Worcester. Massachusetts Digital Tresures now has 36 collections from MA libraries with over 1,300 accessible images.

Browsing the Massachusetts Digital Treasures library gives us all an opportunity to take a look back at and learn about the local history of this state. Through the many photographs available, we are able to see the incredible ways in which places change with the passing of time. This digital library project continues as a collaborative effort among the MA library systems to bring funding, guidance, and expertise to the archives.

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(Mt. Holyoke Summit House, North Side – Photo courtesy of MA Digital Treasures)

South Hadley’s 150th Anniversary

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(Photo taken from Sesqui-Centennial Anniversary Celebration of the Town of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The center right photograph is of Lewis M. Gaylord.)

In keeping with my last post, today I’ll tell you about another South Hadley celebration: the 150th anniversary. South Hadley’s actual 150th anniversary was on April 12, 1903, but that year it was decided to hold the celebration during Old Home Week at the end of July instead, in order to allow time to prepare. At a special Town Meeting in January, they had appointed a committee to tell them whether or not holding a celebration was a good idea. The committee reported back to them at the regular Town Meeting on March 16, so using the actual anniversary would have resulted in having slightly less than a month to organize the entire party. The celebration was put off to the Wednesday and Thursday of Old Home Week, July 29 and 30, 1903.

The planning of the celebration involved several members of the Gaylord family. Henry E. Gaylord was on the Committee on Speakers and Entertainments, Lewis M. Gaylord chaired the Banquet Committee on which Clara N. Gaylord sat, Elizabeth Gaylord sat on the Historical Collections Committee, and Frances C. Gaylord sat on both the Reception Committee and the Committee on Publication. No other family had as many members involved with the various planning committees. (As the library was opened only a year later, construction must have been underway at the time, so they were active in this planning while their family was also building this library.)

The celebration was divided into one day for speech-making, toasts, and church exercises, and another day for less formal entertainments such as a parade and a ball game. The town elected to invite “Mother Hadley, Sister Amherst, and Daughter Granby” to join in the festivities, and throughout the chronicle of events there are frequent references to the close relationship between South Hadley and those three towns.

July 29th dawned humid and gray, although the rain did not fall until the afternoon. Since this was the day of indoor solemnity, the rain didn’t matter very much, although I imagine sitting in a crowded church on a warm, humid day was not the most comfortable. The morning involved prayers, speeches, poetry readings, and the singing of hymns. The speeches were largely in praise of the town’s history and its status in the speakers’ eyes as the quintessential perfect American town. Everybody then went to partake of the banquet, during which there were so many toasts of such length that it came time for the afternoon band concert to begin before they had finished all of them, and some had to be postponed to the evening reception.

July 30th featured a concert by Colt’s Armory Band, followed by a “floral parade” which consisted of horse-drawn floats bedecked with flowers and bunting. Mrs. Henry E. Gaylord and Miss Gertrude Gaylord rode in the parade in a carriage bedecked with yellow roses. After the parade, the fire departments of South Hadley Falls, Chicopee Falls, and Holyoke competed to see who could shoot a stream of water the highest into the air, and South Hadley falls exhited an antique fire engine. This was followed by yet more speeches, as well as a telegram from Chu Pau Fay, who had been educated in South Hadley before going to teach in China.

This was followed with a ball game and, as there have always been on the Fourth of July, many fireworks to end the night.

(Information comes from Sesqui-Centennial Anniversary Celebration of the Town of South Hadley, which was published by the town in 1906 in commemoration of the 1903 anniversary.)

Fourth of July Through the Years

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(Photo Courtesy of Dale Johnston)

The Fourth of July celebrations this year included not only the traditional fireworks, but also popcorn, face painting, a trampoline, fried dough, and musical performances, all put on at the Michael E. Smith Middle School on the evening of the third. The excitement attracted a sufficient crowd of people for the enthusiastic applause and cheering after the fireworks to be heard several streets away.

This exuberant celebration has a long history in South Hadley, although it was not always tradition: Sophie Eastman, in her book Old South Hadley, briefly decries the “noisy demonstrations” the holiday had fallen to and tells us how the day was originally celebrated with sermons and patriotic songs intended to remind everyone about the heroism and suffering of the soldiers in the Revolutionary War, which were then followed by a good dinner for the town. Accounts differ as to whether the holiday was first celebrated in South Hadley in 1776 when the Declaration was signed or 1783 when it became a national holiday—it didn’t become a legal holiday until 1941.

By 1882 the sermons had fallen by the wayside and the celebrations were done by local organizations rather than by the town. The festivities that year included a parade, a concert, a ball game, and a dance as well as the ever-present fireworks. Eastman was right to consider the celebrations noisy—while the particular elements of the festivities changed from year to year, they were always loud and always included fireworks. Irene Cronin recounts an anecdote whereby the fireworks were even used as a demolition tool. A clothing company had posted a sign which was locally reviled on an island in the river and refused to remove it. Some local boys took blasting powder, kerosene, and a long fuse and placed them underneath the sign late at night on July third, which they then lit the morning of the fourth, destroying the sign. Although a $100 reward was posted for information leading to their arrest, they were never caught.

While this incident did not lead to any damage or loss of life, there were other incidents with fireworks that did, and Massachusetts eventually banned the sale of fireworks. Instead of everyone shooting off fireworks every which way, firework displays by professionals became common, as we had here the night of the third. While our other amusements have again changed—I can’t recall the last time I heard of a celebratory game of quoits as part of a Fourth of July celebration—we still have the fireworks.

(Irene Cronin recounted her story in the 1993 Hampshire Weekend Gazette in the article “Feting the 4th in the Past.”)

Sophie Eastman–A Historian and a Mystery

It is very, very difficult to find any information regarding the life of Sophie Eastman. Her manuscript, published in 1912 and popular in certain historical circles, is about the only glimpse we have into her rich and varied life experiences. “In Old South Hadley (MA)” is a well written and succinct account of South Hadley history from its founding up until the mid eighteen hundreds. The 334 page history is a careful study of both broad and sweeping historical events as well as minuscule details of daily life right down to dish washing methods and the installation of drinking pumps in the center of town. Beautiful photographs taken by Eastman herself and copies of illustrations by artists in South Hadley accompany the text. I suggest setting aside an entire afternoon if you plan on reading her fascinating portal into life in Old South Hadley. The manuscript is descriptive, full of incredible detail, and quite exhaustively researched. From the founding of South Hadley before the Revolutionary War to the early days of Mt. Holyoke College to Thanksgiving Day traditions “In Old South Hadley (MA)” is well worth the time spent. Eastman’s literary tone lends a personal nature to her work in that she weaves historical fact with personal narrative and quirky stories about past residents of the town.

But who is Sophie Eastman? That is a more difficult question to answer. Her biographical facts are well known: daughter of prominent merchant Charles Eastman and sister to George and Julie Eastman. Born 1839 and died in the early 20th century. Educated at Wheaton College and professor at Mt. Holyoke College when it was still a seminary for young women. She is also known for her poem written in celebration of the South Hadley sesqui-centennial as well as a 17 page work entitled “The Early Days of Mt. Holyoke College.” She insisted on starting and ending her classes on the Mt. Holyoke with a prayer and was a permanent fixture on campus throughout her life. Not much else is known about Sophie Eastman. The categorical silence about her personal life serves to spark curiosity rather than dampen it. What was her personal life like? Did she carry on a romance with anyone? What were her feelings on marriage and women’s rights? Why did she feel it was important to record the history of her town? What did she teach at Mt. Holyoke College?

It is a little sad, actually, that we do not know more about this amazing woman who has played such a large part in recording South Hadley’s history. Much about her can be inferred from what we do know. The fact that she was college educated and went on to teach at Mt. Holyoke College during a time when women had to fight for the right to graduate high school speaks volumes about her strength of character and commitment to education. Her involvement in the seminal days of Mt. Holyoke gives us a picture of a strong and pioneering woman. The accomplishments in historical recording let us know that she had a strong passion for history and the importance of recording the past for future generations.

What we do know about Sophie Eastman is that she produced an amazingly interesting and accurate historical representation of life in South Hadley before the turn of the twentieth century. Her manuscript serves to both inform and entertain readers and her incisive commentary gives us a small picture of her opinions and world view. The text is available for perusal in the Gaylord Library collection.

An online copy of the text can be found here: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL13524070M/In_o_ld_South_Hadley

Enjoy!