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Victorians on Broadway

Literature, Adaptation, and the Modern American Musical
Sharon Aronofsky Weltman

BUY Cloth · 338 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944319 · $75.00 · Jul 2020
BUY Ebook · 338 pp. · ISBN 9780813944333 · $37.50 · Jul 2020
BUY Paper · 338 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944326 · $37.50 · Jul 2020

Broadway productions of musicals such as The King and I, Oliver!, Sweeney Todd, and Jekyll and Hyde became huge theatrical hits. Remarkably, all were based on one-hundred-year-old British novels or memoirs. What could possibly explain their enormous success?

Victorians on Broadway is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary study of live stage musicals from the mid- to late twentieth century adapted from British literature written between 1837 and 1886. Investigating musical dramatizations of works by Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others, Sharon Aronofsky Weltman reveals what these musicals teach us about the Victorian books from which they derive and considers their enduring popularity and impact on our modern culture.

Providing a front row seat to the hits (as well as the flops), Weltman situates these adaptations within the history of musical theater: the Golden Age of Broadway, the concept musicals of the 1970s and 1980s, and the era of pop mega-musicals, revealing Broadway’s debt to melodrama. With an expertise in Victorian literature, Weltman draws on reviews, critical analyses, and interviews with such luminaries as Stephen Sondheim, Polly Pen, Frank Wildhorn, and Rowan Atkinson to understand this popular trend in American theater. Exploring themes of race, religion, gender, and class, Weltman focuses attention on how these theatrical adaptations fit into aesthetic and intellectual movements while demonstrating the complexity of their enduring legacy.


Victorians on Broadway is an important and original study that opens a new field of inquiry: the critical analysis of Broadway musical adaptations of Victorian literary texts. Sharon Aronofsky Weltman is the perfect person to undertake such a study, and she has done a beautiful job with it. Her book promises to become the authoritative account of its topic for years to come.

John O. Jordan, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Supposing "Bleak House"

In her riveting book  Victorians on Broadway, Sharon Aronofsky Weltman fills us in on some 19th-century classics that became 20th-century song-and-dance shows. Just as Weltman writes that  The Mystery of Edwin Drood, "seems to beg for musicalization," all these shows seemed to beg for greater analysis; Weltman has provided that for musicals you undoubtedly know ( The King and I; Sweeney Todd; Oliver!) and ones you might not ( Goblin Market; Jane Eyre). By the time we get to the musical that has its roots in the 1846-47 serial novel  The String of Pearls, she’s given us a string of fascinating stories. Who knew that the timid Tuptim we met in  The King and I actually was a slaveholder? That a statue in Liverpool was one of the inspirations for a big 1940s hit? That the author of  Vanity Fair had issues of  Oliver Twist? Even a brief history of panties is not beyond Weltman’s purview. In the end, you’ll have as hard a time deciding which chapter you like best as  The Mystery of Edwin Drood audience had when deciding who murdered Edwin."

Peter Filichia, former Drama Desk president, author of Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959 to 2009

Looking at the phenomenon of popular Victorian era-set musicals like Sweeney Todd, The King and I, and Oliver!, Weltman examines these stage productions and their influences from literature by the likes of Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Using her expertise in the field and interviews with Broadway luminaries such as Stephen Sondheim, Weltman paints an in-depth portrait of the debt the Great American Musical owes to the melodramatic stories of the 19th century


Those with a deep scholarly investment in the world of musical theatre will devour this book.

Musical Theatre Review

As social distancing as a result of COVID-19 has us streaming videos and devouring books on our couches at home, we can find comfort in Weltman’s writing, which is so lively and witty that it conjures the experience of an engaging lecture, and in the precision with which Weltman details the visual and auditory experiences of musical-theater scenes, often evoking the audiences that were present for them. Even as Weltman reflects so effectively on the differences between text and performance, her own prose constantly pushes to capture the firsthand experience "of the liveness of musical theater"

Nineteenth Century Literature

Magisterial... worth the wait.

Dickens Quarterly

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