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7 Novels That Have Graced the Great White Way

October 15, 2016 by Juliana Panzera
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What is it about a great story that just screams, “put me onstage?” Many popular novels have paved the way for successful (and not-so-successful) productions. Here are some of the notable novels that have made the leap from book to play.

1. Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Therese Raquin
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

A heralded masterpiece of naturalism, Èmile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin is the story of a woman whose unhappy marriage leads her to begin an affair that ends in tragic consequences. First staged as a play in 1873, Roundabout Theatre Company helmed a Broadway production last season which was adapted by Helen Edmonson and directed by Evan Cabnet. Keira Knightley starred in the title role of doomed adulteress Thérèse, but the French drama opened to mixed reviews.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

This explosive novel by Ken Kesey about a mental health adapted by Dale Wasserman and starring Kirk Douglas in the role of Randle P. McMurphy was first mounted on Broadway in 1963. Made famous by the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was most recently revived on Broadway in 2001. The production, which was produced by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and starred Gary Sinise and Amy Morton, won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit: Original Broadway Production of Lolita

Although Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most highly regarded pieces of modern literature, the transition from page to stage was not a smooth one. Adapted by playwright Edward Albee and starring Donald Sutherland, the Broadway production opened to poor reviews and closed after just 31 previews and 12 performances.

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/ The New York Times

John Steinbeck’s classic story about two migrant workers in California’s Salinas Valley first became a play in 1932, when the book was still on The New York Times Best Seller List. It has had two revivals since, first in 1974 and later in 2014. The most recent production played the Longacre Theatre and starred James Franco and Chris O’ Dowd in the leading roles of George and Lennie.

5. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Photo Credit: Sarah Krulwich/ The New York Times
Photo Credit: Sarah Krulwich/ The New York Times

Based on the popular young adult novel about a war horse during WWI, Nick Stafford adapted the piece into an emotionally saturated play utilizing life-size puppetry to bring the horses to life. The National Theatre and Lincoln Center Theater’s production of War Horse transferred to Broadway in 2011, running for over 700 performances and winning 6 Tony Awards including the Tony Award for Best Play.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit: Everett/REX Shutterstock

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved modern American classics, winning a Pulitzer Prize and inspiring the Academy Award winning 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. As a stage play, it has been adapted and performed regionally for many years but is finally set to take its first Broadway bow in the 2017-2018 season, adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin and under the direction of Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher.

7. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons
Photo Credit: Jason Bell

Adapted from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ decadent novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been seen on Broadway three times. The first Broadway production was mounted in 1987 and starred Alan Rickman, and was followed by a 2008 Roundabout Theatre Company revival starring Laura Linney. The Donmar Warehouse production of the intriguing drama transfers to Broadway this season, starring Live Schreiber and Janet McTeer. The production started previews on October 8 ahead of an October 30 opening, and is scheduled for a limited run through January 22, 2017.

What other novels can you think of that have been adapted for the stage? Dust off your bookshelf and let us know on Facebook and Twitter.