Last month, the landmark movie musical Moulin Rouge! turned 20, and this year, three Broadway musical adaptations hit theaters, including In the Heights (June 11), Dear Evan Hansen (September 21), and West Side Story (December 10). 2021 seems to be the year the musical gods have blessed. Now, the world does not have enough YA musical retellings—in this bookworm’s opinion—but there are a few gems. If you’ve just rewatched Moulin Rouge! for the fifth time this year (guilty), the Phantom pro-shot, or eagerly awaiting new musicals, these books are for you.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
This Moulin Rouge! retelling is full of the same bright, explosive colors and lush worldbuilding as the original. The main character, Kallia, is as badass and dramatic as Satine and even enters the same way—riding a chandelier. Kallia spends her nights dazzling customers at the Hellfire House with her dancing and magic tricks. She loves what she does, but deep down, she longs for something more—a life outside the House’s walls. A life as a real magician. Where Dreams Descend has it all—a fun premise, strong female heroine, colorful settings, and magic!
Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olsen
This gorgeously written, haunting YA is a genderbent retelling of The Phantom of the Opera. Isda, like the Phantom, has spent her entire life exiled from the rest of the world for being different. Since the opera house owner offered her sanctuary in its depths, she’s never left. She uses her much-feared power to manipulate peoples’ memories while they listen to music, a magic she uses to bring the opera house business. Then one day Isda’s world is rocked when she meets Emeric, a boy with a beautiful voice who might be able to free her from her prison. She swore that she would stay out of sight, but she can’t stay away from Emeric. Sing Me Forgotten captures the gothic feel of Phantom along with that fabulous dramatic angst.
The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant
If you’re a theater kid who’s ever felt unrequited love, chances are you identify with Eponine. This Les Miserables retelling dives into her life as a thief, imagining 1828 Paris as an urban jungle ruled by the Court of Miracles, made up of nine underworld criminal guilds. Eponine belongs to the thieves guild. In this version, Cosette is her naive adopted sister who she would do anything to protect. As a huge fan of historical reimaginings, I loved reading a version of the story that makes Eponine the hero. The Court of Miracles gets bonus points for making her a badass!
Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz
Schyuler sister stans, unite! This novel is inspired by Hamilton, but it focuses on the love story between Alexander and Eliza. As such, Eliza is given the spotlight, and her voice gets to shine through. After watching Hamilton on Disney Plus, Eliza fascinated me. Her strength, wit, and dedication are truly awe-inspiring, and I’ll take any chance to spend more time with her. The story begins the night they meet at the Schyuler’s ball. These two have an adorable relationship that is pure Disney love. And the best part? Alex and Eliza are the first part of a trilogy!
Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship by L. M. Elliott
Okay, okay, just one more Hamilton retelling. This one centers around Peggy Schyuler, a character who is basically an afterthought in the musical. Peggy lives in her older sisters’ shadows. She’s secretly a badass, however, a heroine as smart and strong as classic icons Jo March and Lizzie Bennet. As the Revolutionary War rages, Peggy forms a friendship with Alexander Hamilton through letters. This beautifully written story focuses less on romance and more on authentic familial relationships and friendships.
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
This novelization of the popular Broadway musical covers the same basic plot but dives even deeper. Because we are inside Evan’s head, we get a more intimate view of his thoughts as the crazy events of the story unfold. We also spend more time with Jared, Evan’s only (kind of) friend. For me, as a fan, Jared is my favorite character, so this was a big perk! Most importantly, though, this retelling gives us several chapters from Connor’s point of view. Instead of being part of Evan’s subconscious, he is an actual ghost. We watch him as he watches his family grieve. He feels sad and angry, and we sit with him as he grapples with his complicated relationship with his family. For any fan of the show, Dear Evan Hansen is an essential read.
Alice by Heart by Steven Sater
Alice by Heart is an adaptation of the off-Broadway musical that is itself a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. This meta story is about a girl named Alice whose favorite story is Alice in Wonderland. While Alice and her sick best friend struggle to survive World War II, specifically the London Blitz, she depends on her favorite story. However, as reality becomes harder and harder to deal with, the lines between reality and the story start to blur. This novel blends whimsy and history in a way that only theatre and books can!
Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini
This one doesn’t technically count because the book came before the musical. Still, every fan of the musical must read the novel. The novel takes us right into Jeremy’s head (which is good or bad, depending on how you feel about the character)! It’s a fun high school satire about popularity that is an easier read than Dear Evan Hansen but just as thought provoking.