One can hardly imagine New York City without the lighted marquees, magnificent theaters, and awe-inspiring, world-class entertainment of Broadway.
As a destination, Broadway continues to be a major draw to Manhattan, with 7.7 million tickets sold to people in the 2015-2016 season who listed Broadway as a primary reason to visit, grossing an astounding $13.7 billion.
Broadway – between 41st and 53rd street and outlying areas – is also known as The Theater District, and is home to 40 large theaters (typically over 500 seats), entertaining millions of enthusiastic theater-goers every year with plays and musicals that have set the bar of excellence the rest of the world aspires to.
What Makes A Broadway Show A “Hit”
For one reason or another, not every Broadway show is a success, no matter how great the story might be, or how fabulous the actors and songs are. It’s usually a question of economics.
With the cost of producing a Broadway show ranging from $2.5 – $75 million, many shows struggle to generate enough consistent tickets sales to keep their doors open after only a few short months. The fact is, most Broadway shows don’t make money. Musicals usually fare better than straight plays.
However, 20-30% of Broadway shows will make a profit, and some will continue further into the “long-running” category, which generally means they’ve reached 800+ shows.
On occasion, when the stars align and Broadway magic is made, a show will achieve the ultimate height of success and run for years – and in some cases – decades. Here is a look into the longest-running shows that are still on Broadway, as of May 15th, 2017.
The Phantom Of The Opera
Topping the list is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lush musical masterpiece, which has been thrilling audiences for 29 years at the beautiful Majestic Theater with its soaring songs, special effects, extravagant costumes, phenomenal sets, and tragic love story.
The emotion and passion behind the songs in this remarkable show can be traced to a parallel, of sorts, between the story line of an obsessive tragic character who manipulates the object of his desire with music, and the manifestation of Webber’s love through the songs he wrote for his muse – his wife, who originated the role of “Christine” in the show.
Already a huge hit in London, the Broadway show broke records immediately when it sold 19,028 seats the first day tickets went on sale in New York City.
The Phantom Of The Opera franchise is a global phenomenon, grossing over $6 billion, winning over 70 major theatrical awards, with performances in 35 countries, enthralling over 140 million people around the world.
Coming in at a very respectable second place is Chicago, sizzling for 20 years with “all that jazz” – now playing at the Ambassador Theatre.
This award-winning, self-proclaimed “longest-running American musical” features show-stopping songs by Kander and Ebb, Bob Fosse’s signature choreography perfectly executed by Broadway’s hottest ensemble, and media-crazy bad girls you can’t help but root for.
The addictive story centers around two adulterous showbiz murderesses who, by chance, share a cell and a silver-tongued, egotistical lawyer. Competing for his attention and the media’s frenzied spotlight, this sexy musical is a satire on fame and justice set against the background of the roaring twenties.
The Lion King
Disney Theatricals has created many successful Broadway musicals, with their biggest hit being The Lion King, based on Disney’s 1994 animated movie of the same name.
It began its run in the refurbished art deco New Amsterdam Theater, before moving to its current home at the Minskoff Theatre.
This musical is a feast for the eyes, ears, and soul, featuring a thrilling promenade of spectacular animal puppetry and elaborate costumes, favorite songs from the movie – with a few additional numbers, and moving traditional African songs – breathtaking dance sequences, and a familiar story centered on “the circle of life.”
This so-called “megamusical” began its success in London when Producer Cameron Mackintosh got a hold of a recording of the experimental show written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. Mackintosh agreed to produce an English version of the show and worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company over two years before opening at the Barbican Center in 1985.
Based on Victor Hugo’s French novel of the same name, the epic story follows the life of prisoner Jean Valjean on his quest for freedom and redemption against the backdrop of the French Revolution. The songs and story are moving and tragic. Yet in the end, hope and the human spirit reigns triumphant.
This hugely successful musical institution opened on Broadway originally in 1987 and ran until 2003, winning several Tony Awards. It was revived on Broadway in 2006 and ran for two more years, before returning to Broadway a third time in 2014, where it remains today at the Imperial Theater.
You can be sure that The New York Timesendorsement of Wicked as “the defining musical of the decade,” helped put it on the list of longest-running Broadway musicals. Yet its continued popularity is due to so much more this stunning musical has to offer.
It starts with an interesting back-story to the nation’s beloved “Wizard of Oz”. Prior to Dorothy and her band of misfits traipsing along the yellow brick road, Wicked tells the story of the unlikely friendship of the witches of Oz – Glinda and Elphaba – before the world intervened and labeled them “good” and “wicked”, respectively.
Along with Winnie Holzman’s truly creative twist on an American classic, the show features thrilling and brilliant songs from composer Stephen Schwartz, such as “Defying Gravity” and “Popular,” as well as thrilling flying special effects and magnificent sets.
The Gershwin Theater has been transformed into the land of Oz since October of 2003.
The Book Of Mormon
When Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the creators of TV’s foul-mouthed animated hit South Park – made a life-long dream of writing a Broadway musical come true, an irreverent hit was born.
It’s the story of two idealistic and eager young Missionaries sent to Uganda to spread the Mormon faith. When one of them gets into trouble, they soon discover converting souls in this troubled land will not be an easy task.
The Book of Mormon has been critically acclaimed as being “breathtakingly funny“, and also (somehow) charming and sweet amid its colorful – if not offensive – language and lampooning of the Mormon religion, faith in general, along with, well…everything else.
It opened in March of 2011 at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, where it is still going strong.
It takes a lot of talent, creativity, dedication, money, and a little Broadway luck to make a successful show, and these popular must-sees offer great variety. With no shortage of thrills, excitement, laughs, surprises, tragedies, and memorable songs, you’ll leave the show when it’s over, but the show will never leave you.
Look for next week’s blog, “Broadway’s Show-stoppers: The Most Popular Shows Right Now”.