Today’s Armchair BEA topic is “Beyond the Books” — What are your favorite alternative forms for experiencing literature?
I think the focus is supposed to be on webcomics, graphic novels, and so on, but this question got me thinking about some of the great theater productions I have seen over the years, several of which were adaptations of books. I’m sure many readers and bloggers must be theater fans as well, yet I don’t see much discussion or reviewing going on in the blogs I follow. Here are a few of the most memorable shows I’ve seen, some of them dating from decades back. I hope you’ll share some of your theater experiences as well!
To Kill a Mockingbird – unknown theater, Seattle
I’m pretty sure this is one of the first professional theater productions I saw as a child, quite a few years before experiencing the book (or the movie). I still remember its staging and actors sometimes when I read the novel. I just wish I could remember which theater it was…
The Gospel at Colonus – The Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
In my first term of college I trekked up to “the Cits” to see experimental theater legend Lee Breuer’s musical version of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. As the title suggests, the story is told by a Pentecostal preacher and the choir of his church, an interesting take on the traditional Greek chorus. Morgan Freeman was amazing (this was before he became really famous), as were the gospel singers.
On the Town – Shakespeare in the Park, New York City
It was worth waiting several hours in line for the free tickets to this exuberant revival. Click on the link and you can see a video of the opening number.
Jane Eyre – Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
I’ve already written elsewhere of how impressed I was by this British import, which has the “madwoman” Bertha Mason on stage throughout as a reprentation of Jane’s inner state. (Having a human actor play a dog was maybe not quite such a good idea.)
Twelfth Night – The Globe Theatre, London
This is undoubtedly the Shakespeare play I’ve seen most often, starting with the high school production in which I had a walk-on part as one of Olivia’s ladies-in-waiting. I can think of at least four or five others, but the most memorable had to be this version with an all-male cast at the restored Globe Theatre. Gorgeous music, too.
His Dark Materials – Royal Shakespeare Company, London
I was psyched when on the eve of my departure from London I was able to get into a preview of Part II of this theatrical version of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, which featured some interesting puppetry, as well as Timothy Dalton as Lord Asriel. It’s not my favorite part of the story, so for me the most memorable moment was when part of the revolving stage set got stuck and the cast and crew had to work out what to do.
Illyria – Taproot Theater Company, Seattle
This musical version of Twelfth Night (again!) was utterly charming, and probably better suited to the tiny Taproot stage than to the wider expanses of Broadway, where it flopped. Definitely worth seeing, if you can.
Thinking about these shows brought back so many wonderful memories — I’m now motivated to try to get to the theater more! Do you have any that stand out for you?
25 thoughts on “Armchair BEA: Beyond the Books”
Another great post Lori.
I concur that theatre productions are some of the best ways to immerse oneself into literature short of actually reading.
Shakespeare plays in particular epitomize this. The plays open up in new ways when experienced live.
PS – My apologies for misspelling your name. I hit the post button too quickly.
Ha ha, no worries! 🙂 I’m glad you appreciate theater as well. I’m hoping to get to some outdoor Shakespeare this summer at least.
Oooh, very cool! I haven’t seen many actual plays (loved “The Book of Mormon” and “Hair,” but I’m not sure if musicals count here). I do go to a lot of orchestra performances and ballets though. 🙂
Sure, musicals count. On the Town, The Gospel at Colonus and Illyria were all musicals. There are ballets and even musical pieces with a literary connection — different kinds of storytelling!
Definitely need to get to the Globe someday!
It was certainly a dream come true for me.
My father directed plays, so I saw everything (the one exception was a production of Marat/Sade that my parents decided I shouldn’t see when I was about 9-10). I used to invite my friends to go to plays with me, and one of them wasn’t allowed to go see Man of La Mancha when we were in our teens (because there’s a rape re-enacted on stage). That’s the show my father directed that I remember best.
When we went on trips, we saw plays, often a matinee and an evening production. We went to London several times, and to NYC. One of the less likely places I’ve seen really good theater is in Staunton, VA at the American Shakespeare Theater. They have a recreated Blackfriars, and they put on great productions of Shakespeare plays.
The plays I’ve seen that stand out include a Cyrano at the Barbicon–it was terrible! And a Hamlet at Stratford, Ontario this past summer–it was outstanding! We saw Doctor Faustus at the Globe in London, and it was wonderful–they did great things with the groundlings, including throwing a cut-off “tongue” into the crowd.
We’re going to see The Book of Mormon for a second time this summer, and are hoping to get tickets to Hamilton in Chicago around Christmas next year.
Being from a theatrical family you must have had lots of great experiences. There are also the bad ones that can be memorable in a different way — I saw one play from the Royal Shakespeare Company that was so awful. I couldn’t understand how it survived in London and transferred to New York. I’ve blocked out all the details except I know it had bees in it.
I want to see Hamilton in Boston next year! I know my husband won’t be interested so I’ll be looking for someone else to go with. Maybe some bloggers in the area?
That’s so cool that you’ve been to the American Shakespeare Theater, Jeanne! My sister lives very close to it and has been wanting me to come down and go with her sometime. I really want to, but it’s just been a question of timing so far.
What a great post and a unique answer. I had no idea that His Dark Materials had a stage production. I’m going to have to check out more theater productions! Christina @ Ensconced in lit
Yes, one wouldn’t necessarily peg it as the ideal candidate for the stage, so long and elaborate as it is. It was interesting to see what they did with it but I didn’t find it completely successful.
Fun post! That version of Jane Eyre sounds particularly interesting.
I’m so glad I got to see that!
This is such a unique take on this prompt!
I don’t go to the theatre much but I’d love to see Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. Or The Tempest. I have lovely memories of childhood trips to the pantomime with my cousins and our Nana. Dick Whittington was a favourite of ours.
I bet His Dark Materials was amazing! I love those books! Have you read them? Was it quite true to them?
Yes, I had read all the books — I loved 1 and 2, but didn’t like the direction he went in with 3. I saw the play quite a while ago, but as far as I recall it was pretty true to the books in general, but much had to be left out because there just isn’t time to cover a whole three-book trilogy, even in a two-part theater production.
I’m a tremendous theatre nerd, so much so that I volunteer at a couple of theatres here in DC so I can see the plays for free. I get to see lots of the classic plays at the Shakespeare Theatre and more recent stuff at the Studio Theatre, and I love both. And I have season tickets to the Signature Theatre, which does a nice mix of musicals and plays, both old and new, all in a small space. So with all that, I’m at the theatre once or twice a month! Hard to choose standouts but I’ll try!
There was a silent production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Synetic Theatre. They do silent versions of lots of classic stories. It was mesmerizing!
A recent production of 1984 at the Shakespeare Theatre was remarkably immersive. They used lights and sounds to create a serious sense of disorientation during the torture scenes.
Last year, I got to see Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. It was a standard production of a great old chestnut, but it was fun because it’s the first play I was in when I was in high school, and I got to see Lansbury playing the same part I did.
I was in the front row for a production of the Rocky Horror Show at Studio and a cast member made me get up and do the time warp with her at the end. I’m not a big Rocky Horror fan, but it was impossible not to have a good time seeing it live.
I’ve also been lucky enough to see four of Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s plays, and they are all amazing. I think he’s only famous in theatre circles, and he should be much more famous.
I never thought of Washington as a theatre town, but I’m hoping to visit this summer and I’ll be sure to look up the places you mention. Thanks!
Wow! Look at all these great plays! It’s been a while since I saw a great play, so this is really inspiring me to seek some out. The way I consume literature outside of normal books is through audiobooks. I listen to a lot of them and they have ushered me through some low periods when I haven’t had the time or energy to read. I really love them now!
It’s been a while for me too. In fact nearly all of these are from before I had my son! I need to get out more. (We did just go to see The Sound of Music with him, but it didn’t make the list.)
I love this! I have posted reviews of a couple of plays I’ve seen (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Wicked) because they were adaptations, and it’s a lot of fun seeing how the plays stack up to the books. C&CF actually got me to read the book, so it was obviously very good!
There’s just a special magic in a good live production. The movies can’t match it, in my experience.
Ironically, even though I was a theater major in college, I haven’t seen a full-scale production in years – something wrong there, I know. (Actually, I think the last time was in 2014 when I was at BEA – I HAD to see Idina Menzel in If/Then on Broadway – it was fabulous!)
Twelfth Night has always been my favorite Shakespeare play, but I didn’t realize there was a musical version – I should see if I can hunt down Illyria somehow!
Illyria was a lovely surprise. I hope you can find a production somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to be performed often.