Matilda On Broadway and Other Children’s Books That Should Be Musicals

Rachel Manwill

Staff Writer

Rachel Manwill is an editor, writer, and professional nomad. Twice a year, she runs the #24in48 readathon, during which she does almost no reading. She's always looking for an excuse to recommend a book, whether you ask her for one or not. When she's not ranting about comma usage for her day job as a corporate editor, she's usually got an audiobook in her ears and a puppy in her lap. Blog: A Home Between Pages Twitter: @rachelmanwill

Matilda cast

Cast of Matilda

Last Thursday, Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel Matilda officially opened its run on Broadway. While it’s been in previews for a month already, the musical debuts on the Great White Way with hefty expectations to uphold. The novel celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, and in those 25 years, has captured the imagination of every quiet, bookish little girl whose idea of a super power is to be able to read every book in the library.

Matilda’s closet contemporary is Hermione Granger, another female character who solves problems and kicks ass purely through brain power. Of course, Matilda’s power is quite literal, but who among us bookish women hasn’t felt like we could move mountains just from staring at them hard enough? I know I have. And I’m excited to see if the musical version can translate her telekinetic talents on stage. (Early signs point to yes; the British run of the show won a record seven Oliver awards.)

As thrilled as I am about seeing one of my favorite books of all time interpreted for the stage and set to music, it got me thinking about what other great children’s novels would be equally deserving of a similar transformation. After all, we’ve seen some of the best musicals sprout from sources intended for kids. Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Annie…but none of these examples has leapt straight from page to stage as a musical. Matilda was transformed for the screen in the 1996 film starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito. But there is a wealth of source material begging to be given the Broadway treatment. Here are my top five choices of children’s novels to be transformed in musicals:

  1. Charlotte’s Web – Singing pigs, giant spiderwebs on stage, a showstopping finale of the song “Some Pig” – what isn’t to love? This tearjerker of a story deserves an update for stage since it hasn’t been interpreted since the better-to-forget 2006 film with Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte.
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Though it’s been done to death on film, the larger-than-life location would translate so beautifully to the stage, particular through some crafty magic and illusions of set tricks. Plus, I’ve always wanted to know what kind of singing voice Aslan has. I’m guessing a deep baritone or bass.
  3. Amelia Bedelia – The overly-logical housekeeper would be a great central character in a fun, over-the-top stage version. The book series debuted in the early 60s, so a modern update set to song would be a great way to revive this children’s classic.
  4. Alice in Wonderland – Though there was a musical version back in the 1880s that’s been revived a handful of times (none since 1927), this is a classic story that’s gotten plenty of screen time with with Johnny Depp movie from 2010. But a new version of the story with new music and exciting set designs a la Mary Poppins could mean a whole new spin on the classic story.
  5. Danny the Champion of the World – Speaking of Roald Dahl, this lesser known novel is nonetheless once of my favorites, with gypsy caravans and one of the most heartfelt stories Dahl has ever penned, this one is rife with musical material. A stage version may not be appropriate for all audiences though, with some loftier themes and adult choices, but Danny and his beloved father would be a fantastic duo at the heart of the show.

What classic children’s novels would you like to see turned into a musical?


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