That New York street called Broadway represents the highest level of commercial theater in the world. It boasts of 40 professional theaters with 500 or more seats located in the city’s Theater District. It is a popular attraction for tourists in the city, with theater attendance reaching 12.13 billion and ticket sales amounting to almost $1.1 billion.
But which plays have light up the stage the most? Which have enthralled theater aficionados the longest? Here is a list of the top 10 most popular Broadway shows ever, based on the number of performances staged.
1. The Phantom of the Opera – 10,367 performances
It debuted in 1988 and it is still running up to now. It is the longest-running show in Broadway, musical or otherwise. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1988. It is considered the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time and the most financially successful theatrical show ever. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has already grossed $845 million in Broadway alone.
2. Cats – 7,485 performances
It ran for 18 years, from 1982 to 2000. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1983. During its run, Marlene Danielle was part of the show all 18 years. It introduced “Memory” in the list of standard songs. The actresses Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley will forever be associated with this musical play.
3. Chicago – 6,692 performances
“Chicago” made its debut in 1996. It won six Tony Awards in 1997, including Best Revival of a Musical. The original production actually opened way back in 1975 and ran for 936 performances. It is based on a 1926 play that had the same title written by the reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins. It was about the actual crimes and criminals she had reported on. It discussed the concept of the celebrity criminal and the corruption involved in the administration of the criminal justice system.
4. Les Miserables – 6,680 performances
“Les Miserables” ran for 16 years, from 1987 to 2003. It won eight Tony Awards in 1987, including the prize for Best Musical. It was revived in Broadway in 2006 in a run that featured 463 performances. The play actually originated in France before it was adapted into the English language in London’s West End. It originally got negative reviews but positive word-of-mouth allowed it to become a hit in 1985. It crossed the pond two years later where the Broadway audience took a liking to the story of Jean Valjean.
5. The Lion King – 6,281 performances
It opened in 1997 and it is still running up to now. It won six Tony Awards in 1998, including the award for Best Musical. It is based on the 1994 animated movie from Disney with the same title. “The Lion King” is considered to be the highest grossing show in Broadway of all time, with ticket gross amounting to $853.8 million as of the middle of 2012.
6. A Chorus Line – 6,137 performances
“A Chorus Line” ran for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990. It won nine Tony Awards in 1976, including the award for Best Musical. It was revived in Broadway in 2006 in an engagement that ran for 759 performances. The play was about an audition for spots in a musical play. It featured 17 main characters, each of which provide the audience with a peek into the personalities of the choreographer and the performers. They all describe what events molded them to become dancers and how it shaped their respective lives.
7. Oh! Calcutta! – 5,959 performances
The original production of “Oh! Calcutta!” began in 1969 and ran for 1,314 performances. It was revived in 1976 and ran for 13 years until 1989. It is considered to be Broadway’s longest-running revue, meaning a play that combines music, dancing and sketches. It attracted controversy because of its topics related to sex and the extended frontal nudity of its male and female characters. And no, the play was not about that bustling city in India. It is a play on word of the title of a painting made by Clovis Trouille. The painting was entitled “O que! Cul t’as!” This was French for “What an arse you have!”
8. Beauty and the Beast – 5,461 performances
“Beauty and the Beast” ran for 13 years, from 1994 to 2007. It won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 1994. The play is based on the 1991 Disney animated movie of the same title, though there were seven new songs written for the stage musical. Alan Menken composed the music, while Tim Rice and Howard Ashman wrote the lyrics. It shut down in 2007 when Disney was about to open “The Little Mermaid.” Pundits feared that having two musical plays that both feature Disney princesses would divide the crowd and cause undue competition between the two shows. At that time, there were also three other Disney productions being staged, namely “Tarzan,” “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.” Plans were later made to revive the show in 2008, but this did not materialize.
9. Rent – 5,123 performances
“Rent” ran for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. It won four Tony Awards in 1996, including the award for Best Musical. The rock musical was based on the opera by Giacomo Puccini entitled “La Boheme.” It was about a group of struggling young artists and musicians living in the Lower East Side of New York City while under the shadow of the AIDS/HIV disease.
10. Mamma Mia! – 4,643 performances
The show made its debut in 2003 and it is still running up to now. The musical is based on the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA. “Mamma Mia” was one of the group’s chart hits back in the 1970s. Other ABBA songs included in the play are “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music” and “The Winner Takes It All.”