Music is an outburst of the soul - Frederick Delius

You are all too familiar with Disney musicals like Aladdin and Frozen. Magic carpets and flying brooms are the stuff that most people's childhoods are made of. You have read these books and seen them come alive in a motion picture or a feature film. The other major medium of adapting books into real characters is a book musicalBook musicals are a specific type or genre of musical theatre with a specific set of parameters and criteria. The latter is what qualifies a book adaptation as a book musical.

And why musicals? Because they have songs in them. Book musicals come with a set number of songs integrated and woven into the story. The musical element is what differentiates a boo musical from any other book adaptation. Some of you maybe under the impression that a book musical is just another stage show with a lot of music. And that it is inspired or adapted full from a previously published book. That assumption is right, but only in some cases. Somebody might read a great book, and start visualizing soaring vocals and lively dance steps. And the next thing you see is an extravagant, new production in the form of a book musical.

So, what are book musicals, really? Are they the same as revues?

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The Script of Book Musicals

Whether you prefer Fiddler or Jersey Boys, there is a musical for you
Musicals always have this over-the-top element to them.

Book musicals India are not as popular as those in the West. And not every book written in India is adapted into a musical. Whatever be the case, all book musicals have three distinct components. 

Most musicals start out with the same three components: music, lyrics and a script. But unlike concept musicals where the story is presented in fragments related to the theme or moral of the story, a book musical follows an orderly progression, based on the flow of the book, from start to finish.

The Script

Like a standard story script, the script of a book musical also includes

  1. Performers' lines.
  2. Stage or set directions. 

It may, at times, include the song lyrics as well. You will often find detailed notes about character development and even a bit of backstory to set the context for performers to get into their character. 

Usually, when the script includes the show’s song lyrics, it is referred to as a libretto, which is an Italian word for a little book. Various branches of theatre use libretto including opera, operettas, cantatas and oratorio. Librettos even feature in religious practices such as requiems. You will those production that use a libretto running more smoothly than others because of the inclusion of stage directions in the script.

The script of a book musical is written in a way to introduce all the characters and the plot in the first act itself. This is usually longer than the second act and the complication or conflict or the crux of the story is usually revealed right before intermission.

The Music of Book Musicals

musical notes
The songs are the USP of any book musical

The songs remain the most important and critical component of a book musical. Don't look at them as an additional component of the musical. They are, in fact, the most important part of the story. The performers can get a sense of continuity if you include song lyrics in the dialogue. 

Most of the songs in a book musical are sung in the first act and repeated, as is relevant, in a reprised version, in the second, sometimes with different lyrics. The tempo may also be different in the second act. It may be sung by an individual character or by a chorus. Occasionally, a new song and dance may be added.

Songs are the distinctive feature of a music script that are used in many ways-

  • Heighten the intensity of drama
  • Convey deep emotions to a romantic partner
  • Duet performance

Put together music and lyrics and you get the musical score. A musical score can again be of multiple types-

  • Soft music played during conversational interludes
  • Background music for a particular scene of action or drama
  • Orchestrations played during intermissions

The Lyrics of Book Musicals

Even if you don't know many English words, practice writing every day
Writing lyrics for a book musical takes a different level of expertise.

Since book musicals are adaptations of original books, you will find book musicals India to be performed in tons of different languages. This means you have,

  • Hindi book musicals
  • English book musicals
  • Regional language book musicals

This has a direct impact on the song lyrics of the musical. The lyrics will give you a detailed understanding into the characters' thoughts or motivations. Some song lyrics are so strong and impactful that they outweigh the dialogues of characters. Such is the power of song lyrics in a book musical.

An Example

You are all too familiar with The Sound of MusicIt is probably the best example of a classic book musical. One song that really stands out is where the Von Trapp family sings for the Nazi officials. The song is named Edelweiss- a flower that is representative of Austria. In the context of the musical, it symbolizes the purity of Austria, which was at that time trapped in the clutches of a cruel Nazi regime. So effective was this ballad that many fans of The Sound of Music believed it was Austria’s national anthem – or, at least a traditional folk song when, in fact, it was written by American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, who had no ties to Austria.

So, you see, song lyrics have a powerful effect on the audience by advancing the story without giving a break to the storyline. The best shows have the most amazing combination of lyrics, script and music.

Were jukebox musicals ever famous in India?

New musicals premiere in classical theatres every year
Stage adaptation of books is very common in India and the world.

Some may argue that any musical is a book musical since they have been inspired by a story and they all have a script, lyrics, and of course, music. It is true to an extent. But there are many book musicals India that are original ideas and have been written for the stage to start with.

Book Musicals Inspired from the Classics

Literature is a true source of inspiration for book musicals in India and the world. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Jekyll and Hyde
  • War Horse
  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Kite Runner
  • Camelot
  • Cabaret
  • Wicked
  • Malgudi Days
  • The Beauty and the Beast

Storytelling is an ancient method of conveying your thoughts, ideas and imagination. And it goes back to many generations to the beginning of humankind and societies. The genesis of theatre, opera, book musicals, feature films, etc. lies in this art and tradition of storytelling.

Books by Indian Authors Adapted to Book Musicals

Indian authors constitute a big part of world literature and are hailed globally as master storytellers. Here are some famous names that have been adapted to musicals and feature films:

  • Malgudi Days: Available in paperback and digital formats, R.K. Narayan's classic collection of short stories for children was first adapted to screen in 1986. The book was published way back in 1943 and there have been several adaptations of it into musicals and theatre in India.
  • A Suitable Boy: Published in 1993, Vikram Seth's book is the longest novel written in English by an Indian author. It has been adapted both to screen (as a web series recently) as well as to a book musical.
  • Feluda: Another classic in the Indian literature, this has been made and remade several times by many filmmakers and theatre production houses across the country. Written by the very talented and versatile filmmaker, the late Satyajit Ray, Feluda is a household name in many Indian families.

Music is all about transporting people; speaking a language that languages fail to speak - A.R. Rehman

When it comes to book musicals, you will hear a lot about Broadway musicals. Because that is the place to be if you are a fan of musicals. Broadway shows are based on some of the most inspiring books found in world literature. Booking for a show opens well in advance and you can easily get tickets online. Reviews mean a lot for the performers of Broadway musicals and it is a stuff of dreams for many theatre artists across the world to be able to perform at a Broadway show.

How are book musicals different from rock and concept musicals?

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Pragnajyoti

Doctor, dog lover, traveler..