Remixing Culture: A History of the Best Modern Theatrical Revisions of Classic Texts

Here's all the intel on the origins of some of your favourite musical stage productions.
Lauren Donikian
February 23, 2024

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These are the stories that we have read and adored — but what happens when they take a turn in a different direction? Over the years, we've seen books turned into television shows, movies and musicals, and which iteration is better is always a hotly contended topic.

So now, with reboots being one of the biggest cultural moments, many of us are enjoying the experience of meeting different sides of our favoured characters and potentially finding out who they really are.

There are more than a few classic texts we could delve into, but these seven are spectacular. By being shown an alternative angle, we uncover the events that have shaped who certain characters are and discover the reasons why we have learned to love them or love to hate them. Some may say our theatrical creatives are running out of ideas, but musicals like & Juliet prove otherwise.

The production is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (obviously), and while we've seen the story reimagined countless times, it's always played out the same way. So, what happens when the characters break the mould and they ditch the script that was written for them?

Let's dive into the history of modern takes on classic texts.



A war between families, a story of love and a tragedy. These are the themes you automatically think of with Romeo and Juliet. The fate of two star-crossed lovers can only end one devastating way... or so we think. With music by pop genius Max Martin and dialogue and story by Schitt's Creek writer David West Read, & Juliet tells what could have happened had Juliet had another chance at life.

The production takes remixing to a new level by expanding and giving more agency to its romantic lead, enabling her to embrace her own identity while introducing new characters and elements along the way. The superstar team has successfully — with proof in the awards — turned a classic tragedy into an exceptionally moving and joyful new legacy.

This particular piece of theatre is showing until Sunday, June 2, at the Sydney Lyric Theatre (so nab your tickets, stat, if you want to experience the twisted take).


Daniel Boud


As a founding father of the United States, Alexander Hamilton has firmly cemented his place in American history. And the global sensation Hamilton — based on the founding father's life — has done the same. Impressively, Lin-Manuel Miranda both wrote and starred in the electric historical reproduction — a musical that infused hip hop, rap, R&B and soul to create a reimagined history.

With a diverse, multicultural cast, this musical explores love, loss, forgiveness and ambition, delivering threads of a story we can all relate to. Miranda stayed true to what was written in the history books about Hamilton, but in a spark of creative genius, turned the moment that ended his life into a beginning.


Matt Murphy


Written by Victor Hugo and published in French in 1862, Les Misérables is the the story of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for 19 years who was then able to turn his life around, all the while being scapegoated by an obsessed police inspector, Javert.

In 1980, a musical with the same name was created, adored and subsequently inspired multiple cinematic renditions. In the modern makings, some characters differ from who they are in the book and some are forgotten completely. Using songs and stage, the message of the story comes to life vividly, although the strength of some characters doesn't hit the same way they do in the (enormously long) book.


Matt Murphy


This one's a fun one: Sunday in the Park with George is based on a brightly hued painting by post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat — "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte" — completed between 1884 and 1886. Written by James Lapine and with music by late theatre legend Stephen Sondheim, the musical tells a fictional tale exploring the artist's journey.

It's a truly original piece, with most of the painted characters appearing on stage. Inspired by the brush strokes, costumes come to life, and characters flow over the stage in homage to the artwork. This musical only enhances the interest in this painting by offering each person a story that is truly their own.



Written by Roald Dahl and first published in 1988, Matilda began as a charming yet terrifying novel telling of Matilda's childhood. We had the sugar sweetness of Miss Honey, Matilda's kindergarten teacher, the cold dismissiveness of her parents and the terror of Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress. It was brought to the screen in 1996, delightfully following the hero's journey of the precocious child as she discovers her magical powers. In 2010, the musical co-written by Tim Minchin was born. Going almost full circle, and based on the success of this stage adaptation, another movie was released by Netflix in 2022 — one that stayed true to Minchin's clever text.


Joan Marcus


A true classic text, Oliver Twist was written by Charles Dickens in 1838. Originally published in monthly instalments, the book depicts the gruelling (and gruel-filled) life led by orphans living in 1830s London. Specifically, an antics-filled life with exposure to criminal masterminds, forced into child labour and without education.

Since its release, the story has been retold in various forms as silent movies and films and, of course, musically on stage. Most have kept the story as it was originally intended, but there are versions that tell the story from different points of view, too. As we know, Disney likes to make its mark on great cultural works and it did the job on Dickens with the release of Oliver & Company in 1988, an animated feature about a homeless kitten.


Matthew Murphy, Disney


Shakespeare's works have been adapted countless times. Here, it happens yet again in Disney's film The Lion King. Taking narrative cues from Hamlet, The Lion King introduces us to Simba, a lion cub grappling with the loss of his dad. Running away from his broken heart and malevolent uncle Scar, we follow Simba on his journey of self-discovery, which ultimately leads him back to *spoiler alert* save the day for his pride.

A movie with music written by Elton John and Tim Rice, the masterpiece was turned into a Broadway spectacle in 1997 — and has stayed on stage pretty much ever since. There have been musical changes and whole new songs, Rafiki now being played by a female lead and a special dedication to highlighting the richness of African culture. In 2019, a photorealistic computer-animated remake was created, bridging the gap between the Disney movie and the musical by focusing on African culture in both its casting and music choices.


If you're after a musical theatre experience that fantastically reimagines a classic text, look no further than '& Juliet'—now playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. To nab your tickets, head to the website

Published on February 23, 2024 by Lauren Donikian
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