Manchester often plays host to the world premieres of musicals. Manchester Opera House is often the lucky host – Ghost, & Juliet, Back to the Future, etc. At the end of the month, Chester Storyhouse (not in Greater Manchester, but close enough) is welcoming the world premiere of the stage musical adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife – ahead of a West End run.
But before that, Bolton Octagon is staging its own world premiere – a stage musical adaptation of The Book Thief.
Markus Zusak’s best-selling 2005 novel was adapted to the big screen in 2013. The stage musical adaptation of the novel is hoping to replicate the success of the film.
At a snow-covered graveside in 1930s Germany, an illiterate girl steals an abandoned book – Liesel Meminger’s first act of book thievery.
As Liesel’s appetite for books grows, so does the Nazi regime, and the shadow of death is never far away. When her foster family hides a Jewish boxer in their basement, he teaches Liesel the power of words, and together they plant seeds of kindness in a world set against them.
The Writer: Jodi Picoult
The musical was written by Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald. The wider writing team first met whilst working on a musical adaptation of Picoult’s own novel, Between the Lines. In a syndicated interview, McDonald explains that, “McDonald, Kate Anderson, and Elyssa Samsel and I got so close during the process that we began to have separation anxiety. We wanted to find a new project to work on together… but I didn’t want to adapt one of my own books again.
“We each made a wish list: if you could make a musical out of any book, what would it be? The Book Thief was on all of our lists. It had that magical combination of being morally relevant, historically important, and sweeping in scope. It felt like it could be a Les Mis for the current generation. I had just met Markus Zusak, the author, at a literacy event… so I said I’d write to ask him about the rights.”
Picoult spoke about the challenges of adapting a novel into a script: “You really want to honor the original story. A musical isn’t a novel, so they shouldn’t be identical, but you do want readers and theatregoers to leave with the same message and feeling. To that end, you have to figure out what gets cut from a book as lengthy as The book Thief but what is integral; you have to figure out whose story we are following and how and when music should convey emotion or plot points. As a novelist myself I don’t take this responsibility lightly. I am very cognizant of wanting Markus to be proud of this new incarnation of his story”
Picoult admits to being excited about developing the entire story to the stage, “because this is our first three-dimensional production! But I have to admit that there is one culminating musical moment – it’s called The Word Shaker, and it’s an allegorical story that the main character writes – that is going to be spectacular and magical. When I saw our choreographer, Thomas Jackson Greaves, and Lotte developing the language for that in a workshop, it took my breath away”
When asked what she hopes audiences take away from the musical, Picoult said eloquently: “That the past has a nasty habit of not staying in the past. That a single individual who chooses love over hate can make all the difference in a broken world. And that a seed of kindness can grow into hope, when you need it the most.”
The Book Thief runs at Bolton Octagon from 17th September until 15th October. Come steal a seat!