Have we seen the last of the looooong running musical?

I’ve written about long running shows by decade before, but I felt the subject deserved another look as a whole.  So, as of this Sunday, take a look at Top 10 Longest Running Shows on Broadway:

Show # of Perfs Year Opened
1 The Phantom of the Opera* 8907 1988
2 Cats 7485 1982
3 Les Miserables 6680 1987
4 A Chorus Line 6137 1975
5 Oh! Calcutta! 5959 1974
6 Beauty and the Beast 5461 1994
7 Chicago* 5236 1996
8 Rent 5123 1996
9 The Lion King* 4821 1997
10 Miss Saigon 4092 1991
*still running
5 of these marathoners or 50% of the longest running musicals on Broadway are from the decade of glorious growth, the 90s.
30% are from the British Invasion of the 80s.  And the remaining 20% are from the 70s.
Let’s take a little trip further down the long runner list, shall we?  Here is a list of the 11th – 30th Longest Running Broadway Shows:


Show # of Perfs Year Opened
11 42nd Street 3486 1980
12 Grease 3388 1972
13 Fiddler on the Roof 3242 1964
14 Life with Father 3224 1939
15 Mamma Mia!* 3184 2001
16 Tobacco Road 3182 1933
17 Hello, Dolly! 2844 1964
18 My Fair Lady 2717 1956
19 Hairspray 2642 2002
20 The Producers 2502 2001
21 Avenue Q 2446 2003
22 Cabaret 2377 1998
23 Annie 2377 1977
24 Wicked* 2342 2003
25 Man of La Mancha 2328 1965
26 Abie’s Irish Rose 2327 1922
27 Oklahoma! 2212 1943
28 Smokey Joe’s Café 2036 1995
29 Pippin 1944 1972
30 South Pacific 1925 1949

There are only 2 musicals on this list that are still running and have a shot at cracking into the top 10:  Mamma Mia needs another 2 years, and Wicked needs 4.  I expect both to make it, which will give the 2000s (or the “aughts”) 2 spots in the top 10.

If you keep going down the list, there are 3 more musicals that are still running that could conceivably have a shot:  Jersey Boys (#54), Mary Poppins (#89), and Billy Elliot (too far down to count).  Jersey Boys has probably got a chance, thanks to its low overhead, but I doubt the other two will go the distance.
If those falsetto-singing boys from Jersey make the cut (and they still need another (gulp) 7 years), then that will give the aughts a 30% representation in the top 10 longest running shows.  Not so bad.
But if they don’t, and if the Mamma Mia movie madness wears off and that show doesn’t make the cut, we could be looking at only one show from this decade to be in the Top 10.
And is it just me, or does it seem like there isn’t anything on the horizon that has twenty year staying power?
Then again, the day before Rent opened on Broadway, I bet no one thought it would run for 5123 performances.
  • I think part of this is the types of shows that are produced. LES MIZ is a show that you can watch over and over again. A CHORUS LINE has some strong emotional content that speaks to many different people. Even BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has an emotional core that can be revisited.
    The comedy shows produced today–THE PRODUCERS, LEGALLY BLONDE, HAIRSPRAY–are a lot of fun, but they don’t have the emotional core to them that makes them re-visitable. I saw LES MIZ maybe 5 or 6 times on tour. I couldn’t see LEGALLY BLONDE 5 or 6 times and still have the same experience (at least, I wouldn’t pay big bucks to see it 5 or 6 times).

  • Kaylie Stansfield says:

    But then, if Thriller gets off the ground…

  • Tom Atkins says:

    I think Broadway Mouth is right. It’s repeat business which keeps shows going (can we get some data to prove/disprove that idea though?) and that only happens if it’s deeply emotionally affecting. And connecting. A connection you can’t get anywhere else. On that basis, I wouldn’t be surprised if perhaps Billy Elliot does better than you think in the survival of the fittest game.

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