Adapting Novels to the Stage Characters


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Most novels have more characters than are practical to show on the stage. Unnecessary characters can be eliminated. Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe eliminated the character of the Persian from The Phantom of the Opera because they felt he muddled the story. In his rewrite of the Deane version of Dracula for its 1927 New York staging, John L. Balderston completely eliminated Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood, two of Lucy Westenra’s suitors. Boublil and Natel omitted the sister of the Bishop of Digne, Colette’s biological father, Marius’s entire family, and many other characters from their adaptation of Les Misérables, because they have no interaction with the central character, Jean Valjean.

Sometimes characters can be combined. In Dracula, Balderston combined the characters of Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray into a single character, Lucy Steward, for the New York version of the play. When Hammerstein and Logan sent Cable and de Becque on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines in South Pacific, they performed the function of the Remittance Man in Michener’s novel.

It is common to change minor characters. In Dracula, Deane changed the part of Quincy Morris to a woman. Then in his rewrite, Balderston changed John Steward, another of Lucy’s suitors, into her father. In South Pacific, Logan and Hammerstein promoted Ensign Harbison to commander and made him nicer, but also less important to the story and not at all cowardly. They also...

(The entire section is 620 words.)