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7 Back-to-School Broadway Shows to Make You (Seem) Well-Read

Cross some classics off your reading list from the comfort of a front-row seat.

It's that time of the year again. Kids across America are buying their protractors and Trapper Keepers (maybe?) and trying to dig those summer reading lists out from under the PS4. If your child's summer wasn't the most literary, there's still time for some cramming. Let Broadway fill the void. Many currently running shows are based on books that just might be this year's assigned reading — or are at least good for extra credit (we're looking at you, Les Liaisons Dangereuses).

For tickets and more information, click on a show's title.

1. Matilda
The original Broadway cast of Matilda at the Shubert Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

This kid-friendly musical based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl follows a young bookworm who discovers she has telepathic powers. She uses them to battle the evil (and somewhat illiterate) adults in her life, and to bond with her beautiful and erudite teacher Miss Honey. The irony of putting the show Matilda on this list is not lost on us, seeing as this story makes a strong case for the act of reading. But with any luck this precocious protagonist might inspire a few students to pick up a book after all.

2. Cats
The Broadway revival cast of Cats at the Neil Simon Theatre.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Nobody cares about poetry anymore. But you know what people do care about? Cats. And Cats (Broadway audiences proved that in the '80s). This musical, featuring a host of world-class dancers in skin-tight cat suits and Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest earworms, camouflages the work of one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot. How's that for hiding some spinach in your chocolate pudding?

3. Fiddler on the Roof
Danny Burstein and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof at the Broadway Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

For a lesson in literature and history all at the same time, try Fiddler on the Roof. Nineteenth-century author Sholem Aleichem introduced us to the famous characters in his Tevye the Dairyman stories. But let's face it, there's no way to tell a story about Jewish resettlement in the 1800s without some tears. Fortunately, the songs of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock provide a few smiles along the way.

4. The Lion King
Aaron Nelson in scene from The Lion King on Broadway.
(© Joan Marcus)

The Lion King is actually based on another play, which, itself, has been on Broadway more than 50 times! Why not just go see that play then, you ask? Because it's Hamlet. Shakespeare isn't the most accessible, even for seasoned theatergoers, but nonetheless it often makes school reading lists. Fortunately this Disney classic about life on the savannah hews closely to the same plotline. Singing cats to the rescue again!

5. The Phantom of the Opera
Julia Udine as Christine and James Barbour as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Andrew Lloyd Webber loves his literature. Now in its 28th year on Broadway and still going strong, The Phantom of the Opera takes its story from French author Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra. Though this story about a disfigured genius living in a secret lair beneath the Paris Opera House is probably exciting in the form of both book and stage work, there's nothing like a huge chandelier nearly falling on your head to really get your blood pumping.

6. Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Promotional art for Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
(provided by Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

Your kid is sure to sound like a genius when he gives his book report on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The content might be rated R, but it's certainly more educational than going to see the next Hangover movie. Make it a doubleheader with The Phantom of the Opera, and by the end of the day, literary teens will be at least five words closer to fluency in French.

7. The Color Purple
Cynthia Erivo, Joaquina Kalukango, and The Color Purple ensemble at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Of all the titles on our list, The Color Purple teaches the most important life lessons about self-respect and finding beauty in everyday life. Sure, you could read Alice Walker's original novel (we recommend it) or see the 1985 film (starring Oprah!), but neither of the book nor the movie will afford the chance to hear the showstopping number "I'm Here," usually complete with audience callbacks.