Numerous new musicals and stage plays open on Broadway every year and the staple of American culture is home to critical darlings like Hamilton and To Kill a Mockingbird. Some of these productions are so timeless and persistently popular, they remain in production for decades. Here are the top five longest-running Broadway shows of all time.
The Phantom Of The Opera
Based on the novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, the longest-running Broadway show of all time is The Phantom of the Opera originally opened in London in 1986, before coming to Broadway in 1988. With music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Charles Hart, audiences have seen the musical in over 13,000 performances and continue to run at the Majestic Theater, which will resume running the show this October.
The Phantom of the Opera follows the story of a disfigured man who wears a mask and lives beneath an opera house in 1905. He lusts after a beautiful young soprano, Christine Daee, and plots to get close to her while. As Daee falls in love with another man, Raoul, the phantom takes increasingly dangerous steps to keep her in his clutches.
The Phantom of the Opera has grossed over $6 billion dollars worldwide across more than 140 cities including over $1 billion on Broadway alone. In 2004, Director Joel Schumacher adapted the musical for a film starring Gerrard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson.
Chicago is the longest-running American musical, the longest-running musical revival, and the second longest-running musical of all time after The Phantom of the Opera. The show originally ran from 1975 to 1977 until a revival in 1996 which continues to run to this day. Chicago features music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, and choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse.
Based on a 1926 play, Chicago is based on real-life criminals playwright and journalist, Maurine Dallas Watkins reported on during the course of her career. The story follows two femme fatales, Velma Kelley and Roxie Hart who are on death row for murder and develop a rivalry as they compete for fame. As the lawyer Billy Flynn takes on their cases, the two women vie for his attention in hopes that he can save them from the gallows.
In 2002, Director Rob Marshall brought Chicago to the big screen with a film starring Renée Zelwegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The musical continues to run on Broadway at the Ambassador Theater after more than 9,600 performances and will reopen in September 2021.
The Lion King
Unlike the last two shows on this list which were adapted for film, The Lion King was adapted from the 1994 animated feature for Broadway. The musical debuted in Minnesota at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis in 1997 and continues to run at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway after more than 9,000 performances. The show is also one of only three musicals to gross more than $1 billion on Broadway alone. Like any other Broadway show running in 2020, The Lion King went on hiatus during the pandemic and will return this September.
The Lion King follows the general narrative of the animated Disney film. Simba the lion cub is cast out of his home, the Pride Lands, when his evil uncle, Scar kills Simba’s father and takes over as king. As Simba grows older he must face his uncle and fight to take back his home and rightful throne. The musical brings additional scenes and musical numbers to the story including the song “Morning Report,” which eventually made its way to the film as part of a special edition DVD release.
Cats is the second Andrew Lloyd Weber musical to make this list and it is based on a book of poetry by T.S. Elliot. The show originally opened in London in 1981 before making its way to Broadway a year later and surprising skeptical investors with its commercial success. Cats ran for 21 years in London and 18 years on Broadway, which for a time made it the longest-running show in both. Today, with nearly 7,500 performances, Cats is the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history. The musical received a Broadway revival in 2016 and ran for an additional 593 performances before closing again at the end of 2017.
Cats follows a tribe of feral cats known as Jellicle cats, who meet every year under a Jellicle moon to decide which of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be born again into a new Jellicle life. The cast of quirky characters vie for the opportunity and do their best to explain to the other cats why they should be chosen for such an honor.
The musical also spawned a 2019 film adaptation starring Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, and Taylor Swift among others. Unfortunately, even the all-star cast wasn’t enough to prevent the Tom Hooper-directed film from being universally panned by critics.
The Steve Schwarz and Winnie Holzman musical, Wicked originally premiered at the Gershwin Theater on Broadway in 2003 where it continues to run after more than 6,800 performances and will resume production in September in the wake of the pandemic. The show comes in just a couple hundred performances more than Les Misérables to make it the fifth longest-running Broadway musical. Wicked is the only other show besides The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King to gross more than $1 billion on Broadway alone.
Wicked is based on a 1995 novel by Gregory Macguire and follows the classic story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz. The story paints the witches in a decidedly different light than the original 1900 novel or the 1939 MGM film, with the Wizard of Oz being a corrupt leader who uses propaganda to turn his people against Elphaba, or the “Wicked” Witch of the West. The original cast included Idina Menzel as Elphaba, who later went on to play Princess Elsa in the Disney animated film, Frozen. Wicked is the only show on this list not to have a corresponding film version, although an adaptation has been in the works since 2004.