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Top Ten Longest Running Broadway Musicals

By Edited Sep 20, 2015 1 6

Which Musicals Does Broadway Love?

Musicals come and go, but some stick around longer than others. But which shows have really captured the imagination of the theatre-going public? Here's the list of the top ten longest running Broadway Musicals of all time (as of April 2012).

1, The Phantom of the Opera

Penned by the king of musical theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera is based on the French novel Le Fantome de l'Opera by Gaston Leroux. With a book by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe and lyrics by Charles Hart, the musical tells the story of a deformed musical obsessive who is in love with the bewitching young soprano, Christine Daae.

It won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Musical and its leading man, Michael Crawford, won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

The production was initially plagued by allegations of plagiarism from the Giacomo Puccini estate, a Baltimore songwriter called Ray Repp and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame.

A sequel called Love Never Dies hit the West End in 2010, but had a relatively short run of just over a year, and never made it to Broadway.

The Phantom of the Opera is still running at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway. In January 2012 it celebrated its 24th anniversary and became the first Broadway musical to run for over 10,000 performances. It surpasses its nearest competitor for longest running show by over 2,500 performances.

2, Cats

Another Lloyd Webber classic, Cats is inspired by Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S.Eliot. The show is based more on ideas, characters and themes than story and was recognised by critics as being highly innovative in terms of design, music and choreography.

Cats won numerous awards when it opened on Broadway in 1983 including the coveted Tony Award for Best Musical.

In the original West End production, Judi Dench was booked to play the role of Grizabella, but snapped her achilles tendon during rehearsals. Musical theatre legend Elaine Paige took over and rehearsed the role in just three days.

One actress/dancer named Marlene Danielle was in the cast of the Broadway production for the entire run which lasted over 18 years.

Cats opened on October 7, 1982 and closed on September 10, 2000 running for 7,485 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre.

3, Les Miserables

The music for Les Miserables was composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg and the lyrics were written by Alain Boublil. The musical is based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo and tells the story of an escaped convict called Jean Valjean.

Originally a French concept album, the musical was the brain child of producer extraordinaire Cameron Mackintosh. The original Royal Shakespeare Company production in London was not well received by critics, but proved a hit with the public and is still running in the West End (as of April 2012).

On Broadway, it bagged 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Frances Ruffelle.

A film of Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter is due to be released in 2013.

It ran for 6691 performances from March 12, 1987 until May 18, 2003 at The Broadway Theatre.

4, Chicago

Chicago is the brain child of John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and legendary choreographer Bob Fosse. It is the story of celebrity murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and strongly satirises the criminal justice system of prohibition-era Chicago.

The 1996 production was nominated for 8 Tony Awards and won 6 of them as well as 5 Drama Desk Awards.

It has enjoyed great success and attracted a plethora of big names in the leading roles all over the world, including Jerry Springer, Usher, Brooke Shields, Melanie Griffith, Ashlee Simpson, Christie Brinkley, Denise Van Outen, Claire Sweeney, Marti Pellow, David Hasselhoff, John Barrowman, Tony Hadley, Ian Kelsey, Jill Halfpenny, Bonnie Langford, Ruthie Henshall, Ute Lemper, Michelle Williams and Jennifer Ellison.

The Academy Award winning movie version starred Rene Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah.

The original Broadway production opened in 1975. Although it was critically acclaimed, it failed to really capture the public's imagination and ran for a comparatively short run of 936 performances. It was the 1996 revival that proved the true brilliance of the show.

Chicago is currently playing at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway having played nearly 6,300 performances (as of April 2012).

5, A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line was written by James Kirkwood, Jr and Nicholas Dante (book), Edward Kleban (lyrics) and Marvin Hamlisch (music).

It is the story of 19 Broadway dancers auditioning for a musical. It shines a light on the trials and tribulations of a challenging, sometimes cruel, career.

The show's creation came about from a collection of taped workshop sessions with real Broadway dancers, lovingly referred to as 'gypsies'. Eight of those dancers eventually went on to star in the Broadway production.

The original production was an unprecedented hit with critics and audiences alike, earning a massive 12 Tony Award nominations (the most for any Broadway production at the time); it won 9 of them, as well as the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

A Chorus Line ran for 6,137 shows (from July 25, 1975 to April 28, 1990) and held the title of the longest running production in Broadway history until it was surpassed by Cats in 1997. It also held the title of longest running Broadway musical originally produced in the United States, until Chicago surpassed its run in 2011.

6, The Lion King

The Lion King is based on Disney animated movie of the same name. It has music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice and takes its inspiration from traditional African music fused with modern pop music. Famous songs include The Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight? and I Just Can't Wait to Be King.

The story focuses on a young lion cub called Simba and the journey of his life before becoming king. When it debuted on Broadway in 1997 it received critical acclaim for the direction of Julie Taymor and its innovative use of puppetry.

In April 2012, The Lion King became the highest grossing show of all time having taken $853.8 million in box office sales.

It received 11 Tony Award nominations and won mainly for its design and production team (Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design for a Musical, Best Costume Design for a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical). It also had 12 Drama Desk Award nominations.

In June 2006, to make way for another Disney mega-production (Mary Poppins), The Lion King moved from its original home (the New Amsterdam Theatre) to the Minskoff Theatre. As of April 2012, it is still drawing in the crowds and has run for over 5,350 performances.

7, Oh! Calcutta!

The only musical in the top ten that is a revue, Oh! Calcutta! is made up of sketches and songs that deal with the issues surrounding sex. It was written by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan, who originally asked Harold Pinter to direct the first production. He hoped that Pinter would bring legitimacy to the avant-garde nature of the show, but the writer and director declined the offer.

When it debuted Off-Broadway, it was shrouded in controversy, because it heavily featured both male and female nudity. The title of the show is borrowed from a painting by Clovis Trouille, which is a pun on "O quell cul t'as!' which translates from French into English as "What an arse you have!".

In 1969, the New York Times critic described the show as "doggedly sophomoric and soporific" and others agreed, but the public kept coming. They kept the original production running for 1,314 performances, but it wasn't until it was revived in 1976 that it earned its place on this list; that production ran for 5959 performances (from September 24, 1976 until August 6, 1989).

8, Beauty and the Beast

The second Disney adaptation to make it into the Top Ten Longest Running Broadway Musicals, Beauty and the Beast features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and a book by Linda Woolverton. It is based on the 1991 movie of the same name, which in turn is based on the classic fairy tale. It tells the story of Belle, a small town girl who eventually falls in love with a beast, who has been keeping her prisoner in his castle.

Now a staple of schools and amateur musical societies, 7 new songs (which didn't appear on the film's soundtrack) were written for the original Broadway production in 1994.

When the musical closed in 2007 it was to make way for another Disney production The Little Mermaid. Disney believed that the two would divide audiences and be in direct competition with one another, even though they already had three other productions running at the time (Mary Poppins, The Lion King and Tarzan). The Little Mermaid did not prove a success and closed after a relatively short run.

Beauty and the Beast enjoyed a run of 5,461 shows at the Palace Theatre between April 18, 1994 ad July 29, 2007.

9, Rent

Rent is a rock opera/musical. The music and lyrics were written by Jonathan Larson. It is loosely based on Puccini's opera La boheme. The story centres around a group of friends living in New York city. Among them are characters fighting with poverty, disease and drug addiction.

Tragically, the show's visionary creator Jonathan Larson died suddenly the night before the off-Broadway première. The production went on to transfer to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre and was a massive hit.

Unusually, in the 2005 movie version, the majority of the original Broadway cast reprised their roles.

The hit song of the show Seasons of Love was recorded by Stevie Wonder and is often performed at graduation ceremonies.

Rent ran for 5,123 performances from April 29, 1996 to September 7, 2008.

10, Mamma Mia

An international phenomenon, Mamma Mia uses the back catalogue of hits by popular Swedish band ABBA and links them together in a narrative which focuses on a girl's mission to find out who her father is. The book for the musical was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson.

Before transferring to Broadway, the show premiered in London's West End in 1999. Since that time it has been seen in theatres worldwide by over 42 million people and has grossed $2 billion dollars.

The tenth longest running Broadway musical spot was previously held by Miss Saigon, but Mamma Mia surpassed it in 2011.

It was not brilliantly received by critics and received no Tony Awards. The film version starring Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, and Colin Firth received a similar response in its reviews, but remains massively popular with the public.

As of April 2012, Mamma Mia is still running at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway and has run for over 4,350 performances.

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Comments

May 4, 2012 4:38am
askformore
Great list of musicals (they deserve to be mentioned twice)
I have seen/heard "The Phantom of the Opera", "A Chorus Line", and "Cats" - all 3 are great!
May 4, 2012 5:10am
jjhansen
Thanks askformore. I'm not sure what's going on with the repeated article! It's happened on a few of my published ones. I sent a message to IB but as yet haven't heard how to fix it.
I love a good show tune every now and again - I've seen 5 of the 10!
May 4, 2012 6:59am
mommymommymommy
I grew up in the NYC area and saw many of these shows. I wanted to be in A Chorus Line so badly and had to settle for my high school musical productions. I never understood the allure of Cats. Not my kind of show. Great read!
May 4, 2012 8:10am
jjhansen
I have to agree with you mommymommymommy. Cats is a strange one. I prefer a good story to be honest and no matter how hard you look, finding one in Cats is a challenge!
Jun 16, 2012 7:44pm
Marlando
Hi JJ--Wow, I amextremely impressed with your article and all the hard work you obviously puit into it. You might be interested in knopwing that I produced a great number of off-broadway shows inclduing Fiddler, Camelot, Finian's Rainbow, the Fantasticks and quite a few others. Anyway, love the article and I'll be coming back for more reads!
Jun 23, 2012 11:30am
jjhansen
Thanks Marlando. Glad you enjoyed it. I love Fiddler. When were your shows on?
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