Books That Would Make Terrible Musicals

Posted by Sarah Fox

[Movie still from La La Land, Lionsgate]

If you’re a movie buff – or even if you’re not – you probably know that the world has gone absolutely gaga for La La Land. Everywhere you look, there’s a new article about the casting choices, or the songwriting, or how many Oscars the film will ultimately take home—even articles about which books might get the La La Land treatment and be turned into musicals. We’re all about that trend, but let’s flip the script—here are some books that would make terrible musicals.


Paradiso by Dante Alighieri

This would make the worst musical by far. One long musical about philosophy? Sounds like a thrill a minute… also, there’s no tension or conflict in Heaven, so Paradiso: The Musical! wouldn’t exactly be a nail-biter. While we imagine that the music would be beautiful, the lyrics would be dull. Nobody wants to hear about the Empyrean, or a run of sticky-sweet love songs between Dante and Beatrice. We’ll pass on this one.

Rating: Hell on Earth



Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

If anyone suffers from insomnia, this would be the musical for them. Stream-of-consciousness writing broke new literary ground when writers like Woolf and Joyce started using it in their novels, but can you imagine a stream-of-consciousness musical? You wouldn’t know when one number ended and another began – and how to account for all of the perspective switching? The entire audience would be on their cell phones. We love ya, Virginia, but who wants to hear a woman sing for 2.5 hours about buying flowers?

Rating: A snoozefest



The Trial by Franz Kafka

This musical would make most audience members so frustrated that they’d just up and leave the theater at intermission. The plot – about a K., a man accused of, then tried for, unknown crimes – would be baffling, and the music would be, well, Kafkaesque: dissonant and hard to follow. Let’s just say that nobody would be calling this the next Hamilton. Plus, anyone who stayed to hear the end would feel ripped off. They’d never find out why K. was on trial in the first place!

Rating: Utterly bewildering



Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth

The title pretty much sums up why this book would make an awful musical: the plot revolves around Alexander Portnoy talking through his problems with his psychoanalyst. If we wanted to hear about real-life problems, we would all turn to Twitter. Still the content of the musical wouldn’t be boring. In fact, it would be pretty racy. This leads to its ultimate problem: since Portnoy’s sexual escapades take up most of the book, they would also feature prominently in the musical. It’s one thing to read about Portnoy’s urges, but another thing entirely to actually, you know, see them. Especially if the musical included a song about liver. (If you’ve read the book, you know what we’re getting at.)

Rating: So disturbing that you’d have to find your own psychoanalyst



Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

We imagine this musical would look be a boring version of Zoobilee Zoo (remember that gem?). The music would be incredibly repetitive acoustic numbers. It would take about five minutes before children would be lulled straight to sleep and parents would start reaching into their bags for earplugs.  The poor souls without earplugs would start shaking every time they saw a red bird for the rest of their lives. 

Rating: No one cares what the brown bear sees

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox is an editor, writer, writing consultant, and pop culture enthusiast. Besides regularly contributing to Quirk Books’ blog, she has published an edition of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. You can find her online at