Many novels have little or no dialogue, while, with the exception of a few stage directions, a play is driven by and consists entirely of dialogue. When the Heywards adapted Porgy, for instance, they had to add dialogue because most of the novel consists of narrative.
It may be more important for dialogue to be faithful to the spirit of the original rather than to the letter, especially if the novelist’s purpose was satire. The dialogue for Herbert Field’s A Connecticut Yankee (pr. 1927), based on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), combined archaic English with 1920’s slang, especially in the song “Thou Swell.” King Arthur’s lines are based on the utterances of President Calvin Coolidge, and Merlin’s speech sounds like a mixture of thirteenth century Sir Thomas Mallory and twentieth century New York journalist Damon Runyon.
Because a play is heard, one way the stage can add value to the original novel is to include music. Even if electronic books become commonplace one day, it is unlikely they will include original music of the quality of a Rodgers or Lloyd Webber production. Furthermore, since musicals generally have a larger budget than nonmusicals, it may also be feasible to include more characters and scenes.
In South Pacific, songs reveal the character of the singer and take place logically within the action rather than interrupting it. Nellie Forbush’s songs, such as “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” are conversational, straightforward, and bright. Émile de Becque’s songs, such as “Some Enchanted Evening,” are complicated, passionate, and yet thoughtful. Marine First Lieutenant Joe Cable is a Princeton graduate, his fiancé attends Byrn Mawr College, and there is a job waiting for him after the war at the family’s law firm of Cable, Cable, and Cable. However, he falls madly in love with Liat, a seventeen-year-old Tonkinese (Chinese-Vietnamese) girl who would be unacceptable to his family and social circle back home. He expresses his internal conflict in the songs “Younger than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” A recurring story line in the book was the absence of female companionship, especially for the enlisted men. This is reflected in the song “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame.”