Friday, June 17, 2011

A Song in My Heart

Just as readers are often partial to one genre or prefer nonfiction to fiction, music lovers might also have favorite reads. Some love opera, some prefer jazz. Possibly due to my father’s untalented attempts to soothe me as a child with tunes from Broadway shows, I love musicals.

Two recent books have made me realize that the ideas for musicals do not usually just spring into the minds of their composers. Composers, lyricists, producers and directors are sometimes inspired by something they read, often a book or other literary work.

In Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim shares details about the source, development and final production of his early musicals, including Gypsy, Follies and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

In Michener’s South Pacific, Stephen J. May explains how James Michener’s experience in World War II led him to write Tales of the South Pacific and how this book became the basis for one of America’s favorite musicals, South Pacific.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber often drew on literary sources for inspiration. For romance, passion and danger we can enjoy his Phantom of the Opera, which is based on the work of the same name by Gaston Leroux. For an intriguing mix of lightheartedness and poignancy, Webber turned to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot and created his much-loved musical, Cats.

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! was inspired by Charles Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist. Even Victor Hugo’s monumental classic, Les Miserables, was given life on the musical stage by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil.

Leonard Bernstein and friends created my all-time favorite musical, Candide, based on the work of the same name by Voltaire. Bernstein also knew that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet could be transferred to the streets of New York City with rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, standing in for the feuding Capulets and Montagues in West Side Story.

Mary Poppins was a character in a series of books by P. L. Travers long before she was given songs to sing by Robert and Richard Sherman. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan became a musical at the hands of Mark "Moose" 
Charlap, Jule Styne and friends in 1954. And the age-old fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast is enhanced by the songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.

You can find all of these works in the library’s collection in a variety of formats: book, music CD and DVD. Although I inherited my dad’s lack of musical talent, these composers and lyricists have helped me keep a song in my heart. But if this music is not your cup of tea, you can always read the book!

Maryellen @ Warrenton Library

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