The Broadway Theatre district is a popular tourist attraction in New York City, New York. According to The Broadway League, Broadway shows sold approximately $1.02 billion worth of tickets in the 2009-2010 season, compared to $1 billion in the 2008-2009 season. And of this theatre revenue, a significant chunk comes from shows that have been out for a while but continue to be popular. They put “bums in the seats”, making producers fortunes. This list presents the top ten of Broadway productions that have had the highest number of performances.
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 large professional theatres with 500 seats or more located in the Theatre District, New York and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan, New York City. Along with London’s West End theatre, Broadway theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.
10. Miss Saigon – 4,097 performances
Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s musical about a doomed romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl opened on the West End of London on April 11, 1991 and ran for a whopping 4,264 performances. Its success in London was eclipsed only by the success it had in America, where it ran at the Broadway Theatre for 4,097 performances before being airlifted by helicopter into legend. The musical, based on Madame Butterfly, the story of a Japanese woman being abandoned by her American lover, is the first of Giacomo Puccini’s operas to be successfully American-ified. Interestingly enough, Puccini himself claimed that he based the opera on the short story by an American writer, which makes Ms. Saigon the product of two Frenchman’s Americanized take on a German composer’s opera, which he himself based on an American’s short story.
9. Rent – 5,123 performances
Rent is also based on one of Puccini’s operas, La Boheme, the story of a love affair between a flirtatious seamstress named Mimi and the poet Rodolfo. Playwright Billy Aronson came up with the idea of supplanting the story in modern day New York City, and met up with Jonathan Larson, who eventually took the reigns and created the show that we know and love today. Larson never lived to see the finished product, sadly, as he died of an aortic dissection on the morning the show was planned to have its off-Broadway premiere. What happened next is the stuff of Broadway legend. With the Larson family’s blessing, the cast performed the show sitting at three prop tables set up on stage. By the time the song number La Vie Boheme came around, they could no longer contain themselves and leapt to their feet, performing the show full-throttle, as it was meant to be. It’s the same kind of unavoidable kinetic energy that audiences felt every night for a mind-blowing 5,123 performances, until the final performance on September 8th, 2008.
8. The Lion King – 5,365 performances
The story of the Simba’s quest for revenge against his tyrannical and regicidal uncle, Scar, borrows heavily from two major dramatic touchstones: the story of Moses, and the story of Hamlet. That’s one heck of a pedigree, and might also explain the global musical entity that is The Lion King. The show, which of course is based on the 1994 animated feature of the same name, has since been performed in every major city on the planet, with a total of 5,365 performances on Broadway. It even has a stage named after it in Germany. The show’s craftsmanship and attention to detail is unparalleled, and shows that the Disney name still means something, even in the stuffy world of high-end theatre.
7. Beauty and the Beast – 5,461 performances
The Disney-fication of Broadway began on April 18th, 1994, when Beauty and the Beast roared into the Palace Theatre. It’s difficult these days to imagine a Broadway without some Disney magic in the air, but back in 1993, Broadway was a much less family-friendly place. It wasn’t until a New York Times theatre critic noted that the cartoon film was the best new musical of the year, that the powers that be at Disney considered milking the pocketbooks of legitimate theatre-goers. The Mouse House teamed up with Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars to workshop the show before bringing it to the Great White Way, where musical-lovers and Disney-philes alike flocked to the pitch-perfect reimagining of the girl-falls-in-love-with-beast-and-fixes-his-problems classic. And thus a trend was born that doesn’t show any clear signs of stopping.
6. Chicago – 5,780 performances
The original Chicago was a play written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who covered the trials of two murderesses with a sensationalism that elevated her to prominence. Cut to forty years later, Bob Fosse’s wife reads the play and tells her husband that it would make a great musical. Unexpectedly, the musical debuted the same year as number four on this list and was soundly defeated in all contests of criticism and ticket sales. In fact, the show nearly shut down when lead Gwen Verdon inhaled a feather in the finale and got a throat infection. Then Liza Minelli stepped in at the last minute. She kept the show running and guaranteed that the show would go on to break box office records and feature the likes of Bebe Neuwirth, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
5. Oh! Calcutta! – 5,959 performances
Oh! Calcutta was a totally different idea a blend of creativity, nudity and dance, backed up by excellent choreography by Margo Sappington. It was a landmark on sexual revolution. As said by Broadway.comOh! Calcutta Musical viedo. It was actually an experimentation for the returning of the period of sexual freedom. The show made its debut in 1970, challenging the social obstructions by representing the sexual revolution in a series of uproarious short comical dramatic performances, dance, and musical numbers written by popular figures including John Lennon, Sam Shepard, and Samuel Beckett. This adult musical video actually matches the magic of Broadway with the exhilaration of a peep show over a rock score performed by a live band. Directed by Jacques Levy, Oh! Calcutta! never took sex too seriously. In 1989, the musical “Oh! Calcutta!” closed on Broadway.
4. A Chorus Line – 6,137 performances
This show recouped its entire $8 million investment after only 157 performances (19 weeks) on Broadway. It broke the theatre’s box office record 7 times in its first 5 months.
A Chorus Line takes place on a day in 1975 at an audition for dancers in a Broadway musical. The idea was conceived by a couple of dancers who took stock of their profession and passion for dance.
In 1974 dancers Tony Stevens and Michon Peacock teamed with Broadway master Michael Bennett to interview a roomful of professional hoofers. The dancers were not kids but veterans. They spoke of bruised childhoods, sexual awakenings, endless rejection and their love for dance. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante wove their words into a startlingly simple collage of monologue and movement, set during a Broadway audition for an obsessive director.
There’s a lot of great music and dancing in A Chorus Line, but the elephant in the room is the knowledge that talent alone doesn’t always translate into a favorable outcome. Success can be random and many performers don’t “make it” before their careers end in injury or defeat. Clawing your way to the top takes perseverance and well-honed survival skills, sort of like writing—and life.
The show revolves around seventeen desperate dancers are run through the ringer by a demanding director who forces them to tell excruciatingly personal anecdotes about themselves. As the story goes on, we learn more and more about each individual, until they’re all separate in our minds, only to have them come together in an amorphous chorus line at the end. In 1985, it received a special Tony as the longest running show on Broadway.
3. Les Miserables – 6,680 performances
This show has been seen by over 56 million people worldwide in 42 countries and in 21 languages. Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name, set in early nineteenth-century France, the plot follows the stories of the characters as they struggle for redemption and revolution. An ensemble that includes prostitutes, student revolutionaries, factory workers, and others joins the lead characters.
The English-language adaptation opened at London’s Barbican Centre on 8 October 1985. It is the world’s longest-running musical, now in its twenty-sixth year, and the third longest-running show in Broadway history. In January 2010 it played its ten-thousandth performance in London’s West End.
On 3 October 2010, the show became the first musical in history to have three productions running in the same city, with the original show running in London’s West End, a Twenty-Fifth Anniversary touring production running at the original home of the show, London’s Barbican Centre, and a special concert version at London’s O2 Arena.
2. Cats – 7,485 performances
Cats is a musical composed by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. The musical first opened in the West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982,directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne. The London production ran for twenty one years and the Broadway production ran for eighteen years, both setting long-run records. Actress Marlene Danielle, performed in the Broadway production for its entire run (from 1982 until 2000).
Cats is the second longest-running show in Broadway history, and the fourth longest-running West End musical. It has been performed around the world many times and has been translated into more than 20 languages. In 1998 Cats was turned into a made-for-television film.
And it is the silliest show on this list, but the only musical that even comes close to overthrowing the number one slot. Cats is weird - “out there” – with a plot that can only be described as robustly nonsensical. Cats sing in coded, hairy tongues, all leading up to “Memories,” the mournful new standard that kills us every time we hear it. And it keeps on selling tickets – go figure.
1. The Phantom of the Opera – 9,451 performances
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (translated into English as The Phantom of the Opera) is a novel by French writer Gaston Leroux. It was first published as a serialization in “Le Gaulois” from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910. Initially, the story sold very poorly upon publication in book form and was even out of print several times during the twentieth century, despite the success of its various film and stage adaptations. The most notable of these were the 1925 film depiction and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical.
Originally produced for the West End, The Phantom of the Opera musical is now the longest running Broadway show in history, and one of the most lucrative entertainment enterprises of all time.